Castle Rock Visitor Center: A Welcome Development

The plan to spruce up Castle Rock State Park and attract more visitors, proposed by Sempervirens Fund, reflects new ideas about access.

by Eric Johnson

Sept. 29, 2014—Sempervirens Fund's proposal to build a gate, visitor center and amphitheater at the entrance to Castle Rock State Park, which county supervisors will vote on tomorrow, is part of a radical new idea about public lands: Make them more public.

Talking to Hilltromper's Brendan Bane when the plan was released last fall, executive director Reed Holderman said that the new amenities were intended as much more than beautification.

“We want to make Castle Rock more sustainable, so that it’s never closed,” Holderman said. “But more importantly, let’s create a constituency for it, so no one will even think about closing it.”

Holderman said the amphitheater will serve as an outdoor classroom for students investigating environmental science. Employees in the visitor center will advise guests on adventure options. Hikers will be able to enjoy running water (the park has none now), flush toilets, solar-powered pay stations, picnicking areas, trailhead signs and off-street parking.

Read more about the Castle Rock Plan.
Read about keeping Castle Rock open.

The plan was devised in 2013, two years after Gov. Jerry Brown decreed that 70 state parks be closed the following summer. Sempervirens Fund, which had spearheaded the effort to make Castle Rock a state park in 1968, intervened immediately, donating $250,000. That was enough to delay the closure for one year. The state matched that figure, and Castle Rock's gates were secured to be open for three years.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the parks closures, and a subsequent scandal involving 20 million "hidden" dollars, Natural Resources Secretary (and well-known local pol) John Laird convened a board, called Parks Forward, to reinvent the state parks system. That board's draft report included four key fixes—one of which called for expanding access to the parks. The plan specifically recommended the development of "new amenities, digital tools, programs, and transportation options that serve the needs of a broader base of park visitors."

"The best way to get more people to understand the value of parks is to get more people to visit parks," the commission wrote.

There are several similar initiatives underway locally, including the public access plan for San Vicente Redwoods, released a few weeks ago. These ideas are good for so many reasons it'll take us some time to spell them all out, but we're on it.

(When the Parks Forward Commission came to visit Santa Cruz just over a year ago, Hilltromper co-founder Traci Hukill offered some specific ideas about our state parks that you can read here.)

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will consider the Sempervirens Fund's Castle Rock proposal tomorrow. See items 40 and 41 on the meeting agenda.