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PD Editorial: Parks are open, but for how long?

  • Wearing brightly colored hiking clothes, the Saturday Saunterers stand out in the green ferns and fauna of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park on an early Saturday morning. Shot on Saturday, January 19, 2008. ( Press Democrat / Charlie Gesell )

The main gate will be open today at Annadel State Park.

Hikers, joggers, mountain bikers, naturalists, equestrians and other friends of Annadel raised more than $200,000 to keep it open, and the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department agreed to assume responsibility for the 5,000-acre park on the east edge of Santa Rosa.

That's worth celebrating, but don't get carried away. Annadel was spared, not saved, and its future isn't assured beyond next summer.

The same can be said of most of the 70 parks once slated to close today as a state budget-cutting measure. The list included Sugarloaf State Park, Jack London and Petaluma Adobe state historic parks and Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Sonoma County, plus a half-dozen parks in Lake, Marin, Mendocino and Napa counties.

Private benefactors, nonprofit groups, concessionaires, the National Park Service and other public agencies are taking over most of the parks on the hit list. Only five are still slated to close.

However, with a handful of exceptions, the operating agreements are good for just one year. One of the exceptions is Sugarloaf, where a coalition of nonprofit groups dubbed "Team Sugarloaf" has a five-year management agreement.

But make no mistake, this is a stopgap, not a solution. Still, it's better than locking the gates.

Campgrounds and museums should be open, but there may be no rangers on patrol, and upkeep, already sadly lacking at many parks, will be an even lower priority.

California's state parks are a source of inexpensive recreation. They're also repositories of state history, scenic nature preserves and valuable assets for surrounding communities, generating economic activity and local tax revenue far in excess of Sacramento's dubious projection of $22 million a year in state budget savings.

More than 85 million people visit California state parks every year. Today, as the state starts its new fiscal year, visitors still can hike to Lake Ilsanjo and Bald Mountain, prowl the remains of Jack London's Wolf House, visit the headquarters of Gen. Mariano Vallejo's 19th century rancho and camp in the backcountry at Austin Creek.

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