Nonprofit begins takeover of Jack London park
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012 at 4:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 27, 2012 at 4:53 p.m.
Tjiska Van Wyk is blazing a new trail at Jack London State Historic Park, but don't expect any signs for Wal-Mart along the way.
“We don't want to turn it into a theme park, where everywhere you turn something is underwritten by a corporation,” Van Wyk said. “We want to make sure it remains a wild park.”
Van Wyk has been hired as the park's first-ever executive director under a new operating agreement with the state that spared the 1,400-acre site from closure this summer.
Van Wyk, whose first name is pronounced “Chiska,” has had a long career in marketing and development for nonprofit organizations that include the San Francisco Zoological Society, Sierra Club, the American Red Cross and Earthjustice.
She said she is selling her home in San Rafael and moving to the Glen Ellen area.
“This is a dream come true to be part of saving a park,” she said.
The Valley of the Moon Natural History Association and the California parks department reached an agreement this month for the association to take over operations at Jack London.
The transfer takes place Tuesday. Under the terms of the agreement, Jack London Park Partners will operate the site for five years while the state maintains ownership.
Neither Van Wyk or Elisa Stancil, vice-president of the history association, would say how much the association is paying Van Wyk.
The operating agreement was the first of its kind under a new law as the state negotiates with nonprofits, private concessionaires and other groups keep open many of the 70 state parks originally slated to shut July 1.
Such agreements have led to concerns that private companies will seek to privatize these public spaces.
Van Wyk said she's not opposed to corporate underwriting as a source of revenue for Jack London, which officials estimate will draw about 50,000 visitors this year. But she has her limits.
“It will always be the House of Happy Walls, not the House of Happy Walls brought to you by Wal-Mart,” she said.
Van Wyk outlined a plan for generating revenue that includes raising the cost to park at Jack London from $8 to $10, hosting weddings, corporate retreats and other functions at the park, and creating a robust park membership program.
She said the park can generate about half its annual operating budget of roughly $500,000 through the higher parking fees and better collection efforts, which include the installation of credit card machines to make it easier for park visitors to pay for parking, and staffing a kiosk at the park's entrance to gain better compliance.
Van Wyk said the park will offer a $49 annual pass that will allow unlimited access to Jack London. She said the park also will honor other state parks passes.
She will oversee a staff of six. She said in lieu of a state parks ranger, security and safety issues will be handled mainly by volunteers, including those on horseback.
“It's not a huge issue given that we haven't had a lot of issue with security at the park,” she said.
Van Wyk said the park will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday and closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Negotiations are underway that could spare another four Sonoma county parks from closure this summer: Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park near Kenwood, Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park and Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or email@example.com.
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