Letters to the Editor: May 2011

President & CEO Paul Gaffney asked VIA readers how to save our state parks and they responded with their best thoughts.

Many readers responded to President & CEO Paul Gaffney’s request in the March/April 2011 President’s Page for ideas about ways to help California’s troubled state and national parks. They offered an impressive array of proposals, including these:

It's hard for an individual to suggest ideas for saving parks when so many good ideas (like the initiative in the last California election) are so hard to implement.

I would like to make an observation that seems related to the problem, however. In his piece on the soaring costs of theme parks (“The Cost of Admission,” March/April 2011), Steve Rushin writes: "Our country, like the universe, is required by its nature to expand." Well, the universe may be expanding, but this planet is not, and if the space program has discovered anything, it is that the prospects for civilization expanding beyond it in any significant economic way are virtually nonexistent. I think hopes for the future—and for parks—lie not in fatalistic attitudes that we somehow are destined to "grow or die," but in discovering ways for civilization to prosper without the "Ponzi scheme" of leaving growth's environmental and social consequences to future generations.

Perhaps AAA and its publications could contribute to such hopes, although I wouldn't pretend to know how, except perhaps by taking a more critical attitude to statements like Mr. Rushin's.

David R. Wallace


Private industry often does a far better job managing services and resources than state or federal agencies. AAA is a great example of that: Our DMV services are far superior to those provided by the DMV. So, privatize some parks. Local business can take them over as profit neutral community outreach programs. Businesses often contribute to charities and other funds like United Way. What better way to give back to the community than by running a local park, not for profit but to help. Operating costs could be tax deductible and reasonable marketing could be used to remind visitors which company is supporting the park they are visiting.

In summary, private companies could run the parks for less, keeping them open. They could write off expenses (times are tight for everyone). This is a net winner since a smaller dollar amount would be written off than would have been spent to have government employees keep them open. Companies, particularly AAA, with its long history of outreach would benefit from the opportunity to give something back to the community without spending any money.

Tim Wooten


As president of the board of directors of the San Mateo Coast Natural History Association (SMCNHA), I am very concerned about the future of California’s state parks. SMCNHA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports 15 state parks on the San Mateo coast, south of San Francisco. It is one of about 85 “cooperating associations” in our state, which raise money to support one or more local state parks. Money earned by or donated to the cooperating associations is kept locally for use by the parks, especially for educational or interpretive projects. Unlike money collected at entry kiosks or as camping fees, the money does not go to Sacramento to be diluted with the general fund money, which may or may not go back to the parks for operating expenses.

One way residents of California can directly help state parks is to contribute to organizations such as ours. In most state parks, a cooperating association runs the bookstore, so purchases at the bookstore benefit the park directly. Many cooperating associations offer membership programs, so dues also provide a regular infusion of cash for parks.

Of course, with the budget crisis as severe as it is now, donations would have to grow significantly to make a dent, but there is power in numbers. I hope you will encourage your readers to join or donate to their local state park cooperating association.

You can find more information about SMCNHA at our website: smcnha.org.

Thanks for your support.

Joyce Pennell President
San Mateo Coast Natural History Association


Since I am a retired California State Park employee, I have a special interest in saving our parks. Here are some ideas and thoughts that might apply:

Given the fact that California voters are not in the mood for tax or fee increases, those methods are probably not an option. However, we know that most people love to be entertained, especially for a worthy cause, and are willing to pay for it.

My proposal goes like this: hold a series of concerts sponsored by AAA and state parks, and performed by such celebrities as James Taylor, Yo Yo Ma, James Margolis, and others. Taylor, by the way, is a strong advocate for the environment and is a board member of the Natural Resources Defense Council. I suggest contacting him. Here's hoping for success in this worthwhile effort.

David Allan


In these hard times, I think we need to think out of the box—and think of something that could bring in a lot of money.

I do not know the policy of the State Lottery Commission or whether they would make an exception in this case, but I believe "Save Our Parks Lottery" would be a winner. If the jackpot would be split in half, such as a $10 million jackpot with half to the individual and the other half to the state parks, then it would be a win/win situation. I suppose there might be fewer purchasers because there would be a lower jackpot to the individual, but on the other hand, there would be more purchasers as a way to support our parks. I have never bought a lottery ticket, but I would buy several knowing that the parks would benefit—and there's always a chance I could win millions. Just an idea.

Bev Morris


Years ago when my husband and I were in our 1950s we bought a Golden Eagle Pass at a senior rate. I don't recall how much it cost then, but we have used it for more than 25 years. It has been a terrific bargain. However, we would have continued to visit our wonderful parks had we not had the pass.

So, I'm suggesting that if the senior age for the reduced rate were to be raised by five or 10 years, more money could be earned to preserve the parks. I am sure there are other solutions that would be agreeable to the public.

Thank you for this opportunity to offer one of them.

Ann Porcella


I have two ideas for the state park budget situation:

1. Give the state parks that are located within national parks (i.e. Mitchell Caverns and Providence Mountains SRA inside Mojave National Preserve) to the National Park Service. In most of the situations within the state, this would result in significant efficiencies with both organizations. The NPS already manages the lands surrounding the state parks and the current situation just confuses the public.

2. The California Desert Protection Act provides for the state to sell "state school land" inside national park units to the NPS. For a variety of reasons (including possessiveness at the state lands level) this has never fully been accomplished. The federal General Services Administration had millions of dollars (from sold federal lands) in a dedicated account for this purchase. Proceeding on an expedited basis with the sale of all state lands could result in additional state monies that might be used for state parks.

Mary G. Martin


I was pleased to read about how involved AAA has been in preserving the natural spaces in Humboldt County, where I live. The natural beauty of the area was a big reason why my husband and I chose to relocate here from San Jose about eight years ago. We visit many of the local state parks each year, especially when out-of-town guests come to visit. It would be a great loss if those parks had to close their gates to the public.

I work for an agency called HCAR (Humboldt Community Access and Resource Center). We run a program called Comprehensive Career Services, in which adults with developmental disabilities can gain work experience and get assistance finding jobs. Our program has a contract with Cal Trans to manage the north and southbound Highway 101 rest stops in Trinidad. We get calls weekly from travelers thanking us for providing them such a beautiful, clean rest stop. People from all over the country, even the world, take the time to call and tell us it's the nicest rest stop they've ever been to and how helpful the staff were. In fact, we have often commented that this would make a great article in VIA magazine, considering all the staff at these rest stops are adults with developmental disabilities. These folks take great pride in their work. It was difficult for them to find jobs and they want to do their best each and every day. I would assume Cal Trans saves a significant amount of money paying our workers rather than Cal Trans employees.

I think the same could be done with the state parks. Agencies like ours could provide contracted labor to do things like clean and stock restrooms, maintain the landscape and trails, pick up litter, sort recycling, etc. For our crews, we provide a job coach who supervises the staff and communicates with management to make sure work is being done to their satisfaction. Programs like ours are suffering just as much as the state parks with the recent budget cuts. In fact, our on-site work program is closing its doors March 31st. Providing work for our clients or those from other similar programs, would keep opportunities in place for adults with disabilities (who, as of last year, had a 70% unemployment rate in Humboldt County). It would also save the state parks money and help keep their gates open to the public year-round.

We all would benefit from the state parks staying open. Humboldt County is a rural area with very little industry and tourist dollars need to be preserved. We want travelers to keep coming here to marvel in the spectacular beauty of our beaches, redwoods, Victorian architecture, and more.

If you'd like to read more about the caliber of people we would be bringing to the state parks, there's mention of our program, clients, and staff in this article from the Tri-City Weekly. It even mentions one of our job coaches who works with our clients (we call them "consumers") at the Trinidad rest stops.

Danielle Sherwood


A few helpful suggestions:

1. Offer some sort of carbon emissions trading between companies and the state parks, which is an indirect form of corporate sponsorship.

2. Have some sort of addictive camping game app or Facebook game with the profits going to the state park system.

3. Encourage more geocaching in the state parks, especially virtual caches, and big clustered cache areas to members of geocaching.com. The caching can still be free to log the caches, but if the cachers want a special "souvenir" of their adventure on their website, they pay for this and the money is given to the park. Also, I've heard of a mega caching adventure near area 51. Possibly state parks can set up something similar, such as large numbers of clustered virtual caches that teach the history of the area, or have a large number of clustered caches in a particular area that, when found & logged,  form something symbolic of that particular park, like a redwood or whale. Again, logging the caches would be free, but a special "souvenir" on the website would cost money which is given to the park. The parks could offer a particular camping area reserved for geocachers to encourage the cachers to meet one another and spend money and time at the parks. Often the cachers are retired people with time to do large numbers of clustered caches and in the summertime families could be encouraged to cache and possibly even volunteer their time to build and maintain trails, paint, etc.

I'm particularly concerned about small, historic parks in rural areas that don't have large population centers nearby to warrant keeping them funded, such as places like the Joss House in Weaverville and Shasta State Historic Park. Possibly these small parks would benefit from carbon emissions trading or profits from apps.

Shirley Goldstein


Get the State of California to put a box on their personal income tax form to check for a voluntary donation to maintain state parks. It would be similar to what is on the federal form for a donation to election fund, and I think they had one once for cancer. . . . May not be much, but it could add up!

Peggy Hall


Establish a "Save Our Parks" nonprofit foundation that people could donate money to. The appeal should go out over the Internet similar to the way politicians solicit money for their political campaigns. If one politician can raise millions of dollars this way, why can't a foundation do the same?

I honestly believe a board of governors, made up of volunteers, could easily be seated who would be responsible for the administration of the foundation, solicitation of donations, and establishment of priorities on how and where money should be spent. I truly believe the response from the citizens of the United States would be extraordinary.

The best part of it all is that taxes would not be needed for this foundation.

James F. Page


You are right; the situation is dire, especially for California State Parks. Here are a few ideas of what we (AAA and its members) can do:

1. Lobby (pester!) legislators and the governor to restore funding to state parks.

2. Lobby legislators to add a voluntary contribution fund check-off on state income tax forms for state parks.

3. On NCNU membership dues statements, include a voluntary contribution check-off for state parks.

Last year, voters turned down a proposal to add $18 to the vehicle license fee to support state parks. We can support a similar proposal, perhaps for a little less money; say $10 or $12, for the next election.

I'm glad that AAA recognizes the value of our parks, and I hope it will be a leader in preserving them for future generations.

Rob Cairns


I've camped at many of California's state parks and they are either free or they have a $4 or $5 fee. (I don't think I've ever paid over $10 and that was camping with my horse and riding the trails.) I don't get it. People pay hundreds of dollars to go to ballparks, theme parks, and concerts ("Ticket Shock," March/April 2011), so why do we expect to go to a state park and stay there for next to nothing. I think people who use them should pay for them. Why should the state have to maintain them? I'll gladly pay to stay in order to preserve our beautiful parks! I hope other people feel the same way.

Joan Van Housen


Something similar was done with WPA and CCC in the 1930s. This is a variance on the theme. We have X number currently receiving unemployment compensation. My suggestion is that we put them to work, through the EDD that currently dispenses funds, in public areas—parks, streets, hospitals, fire stations, police stations, as well as city, county, and state agencies. Their hours can be computed at whatever hourly rate they were being paid when they became unemployed.

We presently assign some people convicted of petty crimes to community service. There is a mechanism. The unemployed shouldn't compete with companies providing contracted work—just fill those voids where no funds are available.

Clearly it's not this easy, but it worked in the 30s. I was in the USAF in Germany in the early 1960s. There was zero unemployment. If you needed help from the government, they put you to work for the government at whatever public work needed to be accomplished.

Chuck and Val McKay


Do you want to tackle the fundamental problems with our state and especially our national parks, or are you just trying to look concerned? I'm 60-plus and have lived a good deal of my life in close proximity to parks, so I have observed the transition from a decent park system to the mess we have today.

The most fundamental problem with the parks (the problem is much more egregious with the national parks) is that too few of the dollars allocated to them actually go to useful purposes. Where does the money go? To the wages and benefits and other costs associated with supporting the bloated bureaucracies that run them. Too little goes to roads and fences and trails. Too much goes to pay and maintain people who are not needed. The costs are not just for above market wages and benefits but for offices, administrative materials and resources, and housing needed to keep these huge staffs in comfort.

The problem is true of the entire DOA. The net acreage managed by these government bureaucrats hasn't changed materially in 75 years. But the number of people and their overhead is over 2,000 percent higher than it was in 1960. And what do we have to show for it? Parks that are in trouble?

Well, maybe the state parks are in trouble. The Obama bailout of 2009 gave the national parks a huge amount of money for project work.

Clearly, some of our state parks need to be shuttered or in some cases sold or leased out to be run for profit by private parties. Locals lobbied hard to get marginal properties put into the system during the good times. We can no longer to carry them.

If you want to save our state and national parks, get behind the idea that we are allocating enough money to manage the important ones. We just need to cut staffing back to 1990 levels and bring wages and benefits, including retirement plans and health insurance, in line with the private sector.

AAA is a big, influential organization. It could ask its members to be rational and thoughtful. It could take a position that a far higher percentage of the budget needs to go to the parks and not to the people who manage them.

If you're not willing to take this core issue on, Paul, you're just whistling in the wind. Think about organizing a few trail grooming crews and feel like you're doing your part to save the world.

Peter Grimshaw


After reading your editorial on saving the parks . . . I had an idea that AAA run a TV ad asking people to text a word, such as LORAX, and in doing so donate $5. Or the donation could be $.99 and people could text often. Remind people how much they spend just judging American idol with a text. It’s really shameful this is happening.

Matthew Whitley


If we can't find the money to keep them open for us, at least we must see they are not destroyed.

I suggest a law be enacted at the state level for California State Parks (and others who wish to follow) and at the federal level for national parks: a "Parks to Preserves" initiative. The law would provide that any park that can't be funded anymore (for operations, to keep it open to the public) still couldn’t be sold. The protected status of the land would strengthen, not weaken: that land would be decommissioned as a park, and be kept set aside as a preserve. Access and services would be strictly curtailed, even eliminated completely where necessary to eliminate costs. The expense of the conversion would be negligible. Nature would simply be allowed to grow over what we leave behind as we pull out. No knocking down buildings or pulling down bridges: just let nature reclaim. The scenic beauty that was supposed to be protected in the first place by the park designation would still be there: Safe, set aside, wild but not lost. So  if our descendants should prove wiser and more fiscally responsible than we have been, the land will be there: unspoiled, ready to be funded again, recommissioned as a park, and reopened for their enjoyment, if they wish.

These parks were set aside for our enjoyment. Not for one generation (us) to dispose of as we see fit, but for all future generations. We don't own them; our grandchildren's grandchildren do. If we cannot find the funds in the budget to keep parks open and accessible for our own use today, at the least we must make certain these treasures are not sold off, irreversibly destroyed by developers in our time. We must not allow rich pieces of the future to be carved off, just for a temporary shot of cash into this year's budget.

Please keep up your efforts on behalf of our parks.

Joe Andros


I actually saved your article about saving the parks and felt compelled to write in. The national parks and state park should team up and create a pre-paid pass that people can use to get in, park, and use facilities anywhere. The pre-paid funds will provide the parks system with funds. The user does not have to purchase different passes for state, national, and other parks. The hard part with this system would be distributing funds fairly. Perhaps upon purchase, the user can state where they plan to go to provide those parks with a portion. I was surprised that voters turned down a fee on automobiles to save the parks, but voted for a train that will cost us millions in tax dollars and few will utilize on a regular basis. When parks are shut down, then people will start to fight.

Another idea is the concept of the ipass for parks. You pay $50 in advance and as you use the pass, funds are deducted. My parents got an Eagles pass or something because of their age. Why not have a better deal for the rest of the general public?

Rachel R.

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