California may lose living treasures as state parks face closure
Lack of public attendance, poor revenue management, high maintenance to blame.
A government oversight agency is recommending that the state transfer control of many beloved state parks to local and private entities who can do a better job of maintaining the properties.
Parks like Fort Tejon, have active living history programs that are threatened with closure because of the state's budget woes.
Much of that land has fallen into disuse as looming budget cuts have stalled maintenance and improvements. Poor financial management may also be to blame.
Many people are not paying when they visit parks either, causing the parks to miss out on badly-needed revenues. State Parks such as the Fort Tejon State Historic Park near Lebec, CA, just under an hour's drive north of Los Angeles, often relies on the use of an "iron ranger" to collect fees from visitors.
An iron ranger is a hollow metal tube with a slot where visitors can slip in a fee on the honor system. The end result is many people don't realize they need to pay, or simply choose not to.
Fort Tejon has an active living history program which shares with the public the nature of daily life at the historic fort. The park also hosts Civil War reenactments and other living history events. This could be lost if the park is closed, costing Californians a living treasure.
Some parks have seen drops in visitor attendance numbers as the economy and high gas prices have compelled would-be visitors to make tougher choices about where to spend their money.
The state park system has been rocked in recent months with allegations of poor accounting practices, mismanagement of funds, and the threat of closures for many parks. Just as the state planned to close many parks, some $54 million in money was found on the books, giving the parks, and the public a temporary reprieve.
The Commission suggests the state give up some of its parks because they cost too much to keep open and the alternative of outright closure would prevent the public from enjoying them. Living and historic treasures would be lost, potentially forever.
One prominent example is Hearst Castle along the Central California Coast. The mountaintop mansion once belonged to publishing giant, William Randolph Hearst and is now one of the most beloved state parks. Unfortunately, maintenance costs for the mansion are prohibitively high and despite the fees charged to visitors, they are not keeping pace with those costs.
Many local governments, and private associations would not likely be able to cover the expenses of many of these parks either.
The most likely result is that these parks will either continue to fall into states of disrepair so great they will have to be closed out of concern or public safety.
The only remaining option for some parks may be to transfer them to private ownership, with special conditions to ensure the properties are preserved. However, finding willing buyers could be difficult.
For now, the parks will remain open for another year but that may change within the next two years. If the economic situation in California does not substantially improve, many would-be park goers and volunteers will find only chains-instead of iron rangers and living treasures, at the gates of their beloved parks.
© 2013, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
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