Expectations high for new state park leadership
Like the entire community, I have been appalled by recent revelations of state parks’ handling of our tax dollars.
Having been a 33-year employee of our state park system, I found these revelations to be personally gut wrenching. I considered writing a letter to this community, which has actively supported our parks through the years, but for several weeks, at a loss for words, didn’t do it.
The final straw for me came when I saw the editorial cartoon in The Union showing what was obviously meant to portray a state park ranger as a symbol of the culprit in this malfeasance. I want to state clearly and unequivocally that the rangers, maintenance workers, park aids, resource ecologists and administrative staff in the parks statewide had nothing to do with this fiasco. The problem was instigated and perpetrated by upper-level Sacramento headquarters staff and not even many of them.
Those $20 million in “hidden” funds should have been available to provide services to park visitors. That money should have been used to provide educational and public safety services, to maintain and repair worn out facilities, such as the Bridgeport Covered Bridge and to fill at least some of the public-serving staff vacancies in each of the parks. The local park people, like the one portrayed in the cartoon, didn’t let you down. They were just as betrayed as all of us.
Until retirement in 2004, for my last 18 years in state service, I worked in Grass Valley. I was fortunate to be able to work in a community that supported its state parks’ mission with monetary donations, vast amounts of volunteer services and political activism. We have the right to expect parks management, i.e. Sacramento headquarters staff to demonstrate fiscal responsibility in the future, including making right their previous commitments to Nevada County’s state parks.
A portion of those $20 million could be made available to renovate the Bridgeport Covered Bridge. Failure to do so would negligently jeopardize this priceless landmark. These funds could also be used to fulfill the state’s commitment to the Empire Mine Park Association to complete the Underground Tour Project at Empire Mine S.H.P.
It is my hope that some of these “found” Parks and Recreation Fund monies will be used to correct Park Service Center engineering errors (placing untreated steel ground support to rust very rapidly in a wet environment) and fulfill parks’ responsibilities to help EMPA complete the Underground Tour Project. This is a project and program specifically identified in the Empire Mine State Historic Park General Development Plan and Amendment. This project, designed to afford visitors the opportunity to journey into a hard-rock gold mine, will help fulfill the park’s purpose, state parks’ mission, and will be a tourism boon for the community.
There is now new leadership in the upper echelons of state park headquarters in Sacramento. I believe we can expect a new generation of responsible management at the highest levels within state parks. Hopefully, the new state park director, Major General Anthony Jackson, USMC (ret.), and his staff will move into a new era of partnership with the people, like those in this community, who have demonstrated through the years their commitment to California state parks.
Ray Patton was the sector and district superintendent in Grass Valley and Sierra District superintendent from 1986 to 2004. He lives in Grass Valley.
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