How to Fix State Parks

March 25, 2013—Remember how, in 2011, the state of California revealed that it would have to close 70 of its 278 state parks because it couldn’t afford to run them, and then a bunch of nonprofits, including Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, stepped in and saved the day by taking over operations to keep some of those parks open? Get used to it, says a new report released today by the Little Hoover Commission, a state bipartisan oversight agency. It’s the new normal—or at least it should be.

The report, titled "Beyond Crisis: Recapturing Excellence in the California State Parks System," starts with the proposition that “the state cannot operate all the parks it owns with its current funding structure.” The solution, according to the commissioners? Cull the herd and make the rest more profitable.

The commission is recommending taking a hard look at all the state parks and figuring out which ones aren’t really of statewide significance. Some parks “primarily serve local or regional populations,” the report says. “Those parks that serve local needs should be realigned to local control.” Gulp. That would be better news if California’s counties and cities weren't all broke.

The commission also wants the Department of Parks and Recreation to transition “from a model of centralized state control to a more enterprise-based operating model.” That means more joint operating agreements with nonprofits like Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks and the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation. It also means figuring out how to get the most of each park’s revenue-generating capacity.

One very interesting recommendation has state parks trying out a pilot program of "bundling" with parks run by other agencies (think county parks, regional parks and maybe in some cases even national parks) to save overhead costs and eliminate redundancies.

There will be much more to come on this topic. Download the report here. Read more at KQED or at the Sacramento Bee.

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