California's state senate is considering a bill that would allow nonprofit or private groups to run the 70 state parks slated for closure after Labor Day.
Local parks advocates support the bill, AB 42, but worry about the ability of groups of volunteers to adequately manage public lands. In Nevada County, the South Yuba River and Malakoff Diggins state parks are scheduled for closure after Labor Day as part of an effort in the state budget to save $22 million over the next year.
The bill must pass the senate, and receive Gov. Jerry Brown's approval, to become law. It has already cleared the state assembly.
Under the bill, the state would be allowed to enter into public-private partnerships with nonprofit organizations to help operate park units that might otherwise face closure due to the lack of state budget funding.
"In the North State and across California, there are literally dozens of community groups that would like to step in and help run our state parks in these tough budget times, but state law currently prevents them from doing so," said Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Penn Valley). "By coming together to support this important bipartisan measure, we can provide for operating agreements with these non-profit organizations to keep state parks open to the public. Passing this bill is of critical importance to the many North State communities where our parks are both cherished historical and recreational destinations and significant engines to the local economies."
Glenn Fuller, a volunteer with the 100-plus member South Yuba River Park Association, supports the bill but was unclear on whether volunteers could take over all of the functions of professional parks staff.
"If we're talking about giving tours, going down and opening up the visitor's center and leading walks on Buttermilk Bend, I think we can do that," Fuller said. "But if you're talking about cleaning out restrooms and closing and opening gates, that's going to take a bigger commitment and more people."
Where volunteer groups have the manpower, resources and initiative to operate parks, they already are, said Alden Olmsted, a parks advocate who is raising money to support the parks in honor of his late father, the naturalist John Olmsted.
"(The bill) makes what's already happening now a little bit more official" but it does not prop up groups at parks that don't already have volunteers involved in operations, Olmsted said. In South Yuba, law enforcement officers are needed, and that's not a skill or responsibility most are comfortable handing off to volunteers, he added.
Combine providing law enforcement and fundraising for things like facilities management, "and that's an awful lot to ask from volunteers," Fuller added.
"(The bill) isn't perfect, but this is kind of like the first step" to allow volunteers to perform more duties if they can, Logue said.
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