The announcement that 70 state parks would shut down July 1 because of budget cuts was made last May on, appropriately enough, Friday the 13th.
Shutting parks to let them rot, or worse, be taken over by vandals, pot growers and other ne'er-do-wells, sounded like the plot of a horror movie. Or Sacramento politics.
"I just couldn't believe it," Richard Dale, executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, recalled about hearing the news of the closure list, which included 16 parks on the North Coast.
The announcement galvanized Sonoma County's parks and open space leaders into action. Out of that grew a new alliance of county government, nonprofit and private groups that, in conjunction with state lawmakers, developed a strategy to keep the parks open.
It worked. Come today, no state parks on the North Coast will close.
They are Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park near Kenwood, Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park and Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville, as well as eight Mendocino County parks, two in Napa County and one in Lake County.
"It was a pretty remarkable grass-roots effort and more evidence, if we needed any, of the way people in this county feel about their parks," said Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust.
Celebrations are planned today at Annadel and Petaluma Adobe, but they represent only a temporary reprieve for these natural resources.
To the dismay of park advocates, Gov. Jerry Brown last week vetoed $31 million the Legislature borrowed from other uses to help the California Parks Department deal with its estimated $1 billion in deferred maintenance. He left $10 million.
"Nobody should assume that we are out of the woods on park closures," Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said Friday. "This $10 million is basically going to buy time."
Huffman said his initial thought when Brown announced the park closures last May was, "here we go again."
Arnold Schwarzenegger made similar proposals when he was governor, but he always backed down in the face of protest. Huffman said he initially thought Brown would back down, too.
In November, the assemblyman chaired a hearing in Sacramento in which he and other lawmakers blasted state parks officials over how they selected the 70 parks for closure. Huffman told them to abandon the proposal. They did not.
"They were working on a detailed closure plan, which we hadn't seen beforehand," he said.
By then, the newly formed Parks Alliance for Sonoma County was meeting to develop a strategy for saving five parks in the county that were on the state's closure list.
The initial meetings were led by Benson, with the land trust; Caryl Hart, the county's parks director; and Bill Keene, general manager of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.
Dave Gould, the former district superintendent of the Diablo Vista District for state parks, agreed to come out of retirement and lead the fledgling organization. The land trust paid for a part-time staffer. The alliance grew to include a number of nonprofits, government agencies and individuals.
"It was a place where everyone could come together to compare notes and work out a strategy for going to Sacramento," Benson said.
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