If Palomar Mountain State Park is closed, as the gov wants to do, our big state will really not save all that much from its closure. According to Roy Sterns, Deputy Director of Communications for the California State Parks, California will only save less than $160,000 a year by closing Palomar Mountain State Park. That isn’t much for one of the grandest natural treasures San Diego County currently claims.
As you have probably heard, Governor Jerry Brown wants to shut down 70 state parks up and down California in light of the state’s budget crisis. The parks slated for closure would meet the governor’s $22 million budget cuts. These include Palomar Mountain State Park here in our county. According to the superintendent of Palomar Mountain and Cuyamaca Rancho parks, the plan is to now close the park beginning July 2012. This will be the very first time that Palomar will be shut down.
However, Supe. Nedra Martinez said in a letter sent out to residents of the mountain back in mid May, the park will be closed before that summer 2012 date on Mondays through Thursdays beginning this September. And Fridays through Sundays the park will be open -until a little over a year from now.
The other park in San Diego County to be closed is the San Pasqual Battlefield, east of Escondido. The Salton Sea recreation area is also targeted in our neighboring county. (See this article by J. Harry Jones and Mike Lee at SD U-T published back in mid May.)
Just to be clear, only the state park up on Palomar will be closing. The federal section – closer to the Observatory – will remain open.
Sterns told me in a phone interview early this afternoon, that normally Palomar Mountain State Park costs the state $297,464 to run annually. This includes salaries of park employees, vehicles, gas, park maintenance, utilities, phones, etc. But also, Palomar takes in approximately $140,022 in camping fees and other charges to campers, fishers, and day trippers.
Subtracting the fees taken in from the costs to run it, gets you to $157,422. This is the savings for a year – less than $160,000! And of course, this does not include the costs to the state to re-open it, nor does it include the costs to the state to enforce the closure.
This is such a travesty, it’s beyond words. Palomar Mountain Park is a great place to remind yourself about nature, and its closure will be a tragedy for all San Diegans.
A recent LA Times editorial raised some concerns:
Consider what it means, for instance, to “close” Palomar Mountain State Park’s 1,800 acres in San Diego County, one of many large parks on the list. The state can lock the gates to the main access road, of course. But the park is adjacent to the much-larger Palomar district of the Cleveland National Forest and shares trails with that federal open land. Motorists might stay out, along with law-abiding types who respect rules, but many others will enter illegally, heedless of the lack of staff to rescue them in case of trouble. While the parks are closed, patrols will be infrequent.
Campers who try to escape detection are more likely to set up campfires in the backcountry, creating a fire hazard. Meth labs and marijuana farms are always a concern in larger parks with remote areas. And one bad fire would more than wipe out the $22 million the state hopes to save next year by shutting all 70 parks.
If an endangered species is harmed by a closure, the state is answerable to the federal government. If illegal use of the park or failure to maintain the grounds creates a neighborhood nuisance, the state could face legal action.
In addition, at least one blogger thinks closing some of California’s state parks would violate federal law.
There is also a move afoot in the State Assembly to come up with a bill that would save Palomar and the other 69 parks from closing. In Foundation Pushes for Bill an Assembly Bill 42, sponsored by Jared Huffman, D-Marin, would allow the Department of Parks and Recreation to enter into operating agreements with nonprofit organizations to care for the parks. If this bill passes, it would give Palomar Mountain a chance to stay open, said Jerry Emory, a spokesperson for California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the state’s parks.
Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the foundation, said:
“We are not going to stand by as our state parks system is closed and dismantled. California’s state park system belongs to the people of California, and its existence is critical to the state’s environmental, economic and civic fabric.”
Roy Sterns of the State Parks is aware of Bill 42 but cannot take an official position on it just yet. He did say that the state has 4 parks now run by non-profits. “We’re not opposed to sitting down and talking with non-profits” about all of this. 32 parks right now are operated by cities and counties, Sterns said.
In countering concerns or fears of the privatization of our parks, Sterns counseled that even if a non-profit took over Palomar Mountain, the state would still not turn over the deed or ownership of the park. Plus the non-profit would still have to operate the park under state park guidelines. Already, Sterns added, the state has 190 contracts with non-profits to run and operate concessions, rides, etc at the state parks.
Lastly, according to the North County Times, supporters of Palomar Mountain park have launched an effort to save it by gathering photographs, letters and information that will be used to tell the story of the mountain park. They want to inform the Governor and legislators about the park by telling its story through the eyes of those who love and appreciate it.
Park ranger Jessica Murany and park volunteer Rick Barclay have created a web page that provides information about the park and invites users to “put a face on our website.” There is also a link on the web page providing sample letters to the Governor and a list of legislators to be contacted. Here is also the link to Palomar Mountain News.
In the end, join this battle to save Palomar Mountain State Park. And if you’ve never been up there, now is the time to go. Before it closes.