All California nonprofits that have supported State Parks over the years in one form or another know the story that sparked a flame which has burned for more than two months. Unauthorized vacation buyouts approved by a State Parks deputy director with a string of criminal convictions. $54 million in “surplus” funds surface shortly thereafter unreported for more than a decade. And both occurring within a state department that has been charged with protecting our 278 state-park system as budget woes bring 70 park closures dangerously close to reality.
And the sentiments shared by this large community of urban forestry groups, land trusts, local park stewards and statewide conservation groups upon hearing this news clearly leads with a feeling of betrayal. California State Parks Foundation — an independent non-profit dedicated to protecting state parks for over 43 years — summarizes the collective conscious of many groups on their website, stating “We are angry on behalf of our members, our donors, our partners, and on behalf of all Californians. We all have the right to expect honesty from the government systems that serve us and, in this case, DPR let us all down.”
But as the aftermath of what happens at the Department of Parks and Recreation plays out, there is still before us the larger issue of continuing our desire to support California’s state parks. The continuing efforts of many urban forestry groups epitomize that goal. In northern California, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods moves forward in assuming operation of the Austin Creek SRA campground. In Los Angeles, North East Trees continues with urban forestry in Rio de Los Angeles SRA and Los Angeles State Historic Park. And statewide, California ReLeaf supported successful legislation that ensures these “surplus” funds go back into our state parks.
The new leadership at DPR will have to work hard to earn back public trust back over the next several months, which is why it is increasingly important that our community continue to support these precious resources. Thanks to everyone in our Network for keeping the faith.