SAN FRANCISCO — Shuttering dozens of California state parks to trim millions from the state budget will take more than simply hanging a "Closed" sign on trailheads and beach parking lots. Many on the closure list house thousands of historical treasures that must be packed up, catalogued and stored if deals are not reached to save them.
The tens of thousands of items on public display paint a rich portrait of California's past. Among them are rare crystalline gold nuggets at the California Mining and Minerals Museum in Mariposa, painting masterworks showing early 20th century San Francisco street scenes and coastal landscapes at Shasta State Historical Park, and the writer Jack London's home and writing memorabilia in Sonoma County.
California officials admit they have been overwhelmed by the unprecedented move to close the parks, and just months before the planned closures they are working to catalog these important pieces of state history so they can undertake a massive packing, moving and storage effort should a deal not be reached. And if the state does have to move thousands of delicate items, it does not currently know how much it will cost — or how much of its projected $22 million in savings it will lose to pay for packing and long-term storage.
"When this started, I'm fairly sure we didn't have any exact science on packaging and storage of artifacts. They knew there would be a cost, but they weren't sure how to accurately estimate it," said Roy Stearns, a spokesman for the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
California operates 278 parks on 1.3 million acres, each protecting biological, historical or ecological resources, or in some cases all three.
As the July 1 closure date approaches, officials are unsure how many of the 70 parks on its closure list will remain open through partnerships. Currently the parks department has inked deals with nonprofits and other entities to keep 11 sites open, and 24 more parks have early-stage negotiations in process that officials caution are no sure thing.
Still, it's unclear how much savings are associated with individual park closings because the state can't provide a breakdown of operating costs for individual parks, according to a report issued in March by the Legislative Analyst Office. The state also failed to consider in its savings estimate the cost of packing, shipping and storing, the report said.
"There are parks on the list where short-term savings will exceed the cost of packing them up," Lia Moore, author of the report, told the Associated Press.
According to the LAO report there are a number of cost-saving and revenue generating ideas that the parks department has not implemented, despite years of declining budgets, that could have helped keep more parks from closing.
Some of the ideas include charging entrance fees rather than parking fees to deter visitors from leaving cars along roadways outside of parks and hiking in to avoid paying. The analyst estimated that if just one in eight people who visit parks paid to enter the state could reap "in the low tens of millions of dollars annually."
"The argument is you limit access socioeconomically, but by closing parks you're keeping people out of parks either way," Moore said.