What, Exactly, Does State Mean By Park 'Closures'? 'Who Knows?' Says State Parks Foundation

A nature walk redefined
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent thunderbolt (he did portray Hercules once) about chipping away at our Death Valley-deep deficit by closing 80 percent of the state's parks has prompted a very elemental question: What do you mean by "close"?

Would there be no electric, plumbing, and grass growing out of the paved trails? If I get lost in the wilderness will my remains be found by anthropologists from the next millennium? Or are we simply going to throw cyclone fence around all the parks on this seven-page list (even with small type!) rendering them off-limits for everyone who can't climb a fence?

The California State Parks Foundation -- which has a horse in this race, you could say -- has no clue. None. "Right now they're using the term 'caretaker status,' which must begin with closing the gates and turning off the utilities," says Jerry Emory, the 40-year-old nonprofit group's communications director. "After that, we don't know what it means."  

If it really does mean shuttering the parks -- well, be prepared for  massive encampments of vagrants, use of parks as party sites and dumps, and the ever-present risk of carelessly set (or not-so-carelessly set) fires, warns Emory.

Besides the fact that closing the parks is emotionally akin to raffling off the right to shoot Bambi's mother, the nonprofit holds that the state's plan -- to slash the parks' budget from $143 million to 73 million this year, and then do away with the rest of it for the next fiscal year -- is penny-wise, pound-foolish.

Emory touts a 2002 study by the Department of Parks and Recreation that found that every dollar spent on parks created $2.35 in taxes and revenue that went back to the state's general fund via fees or visitor money spent in local communities. He goes on to note that 80 million people visited state parks last year -- and more and more could be expected to do so as the term "staycation" grows more and more annoyingly ubiquitous out of economic necessity.

The park advocates await the definition of the term "caretaker." It will be interesting to see if the state finds a definition that implies neither care nor the taking of it.

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