Were a person to explore all 11,826 parks in California, it might take several years and more than a few pairs of hiking boots.
As an alternative, CaliParks.org accomplishes the same feat in seconds.
The new mobile-friendly website is a clearinghouse for people who want to get outdoors but don’t know where to begin.
Searching options near the city of Santa Rosa, for instance, turns up 30 city, regional and state parks. The results can be filtered by activity. For those parks that offer camping, there are links to reservation sites.
Caryl Hart, Sonoma County’s regional parks director, called the website a “breakthrough,” saying it makes searching for parks and park amenities “completely simple.” The site also includes national parks and is part of a campaign to highlight the state’s public spaces, regardless of which governmental entity controls them.
Hart is a member of Parks Forward, a blue-ribbon commission that recommended fundamental changes to the state’s parks system to deal with chronic budget and management problems and to re connect Californians with their outdoor playgrounds.
One of the commission’s key recommendations was that parks needed to upgrade technology. The group spearheaded the development of CaliParks, which pulls from social media sites, Internet databases and trip planner technology from Apple and Google.
The site can be viewed in English or Spanish.
The Resources Legacy Fund covered the $245,000 price tag for the website, according to Jon Christensen, a UCLA professor and partner in Stamen Design, which built the application that powers the site.
Parks Forward recommended that the California Department of Parks and Recreation collaborate more with non profit groups, philanthropic organizations and private entities to help shore up the state’s parks system, which remains on shaky financial ground three years after a financial scandal at the agency sparked a public outcry and led to the commission’s creation.
Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a one-time budget increase of $16.8 million for the parks department in 2015-16 as a way of maintaining existing services while longer-term revenue solutions are considered. The proposal represents a $2.8 million bump over the previous fiscal year. In the meantime, the parks system is burning through reserves and still faces a maintenance backlog of more than $1 billion.
Through CaliParks, park visitors’ posts on Flickr and Instagram are linked to on the website, creating an ever-changing collage of user experience.
“For people to feel welcome in public spaces, we needed to show people like them in those spaces,” Christensen said.
Hipcamp was another partner in the endeavor. The online reservation site is used for booking accommodations in numerous state parks, including Austin Creek State Recreation Area near Guerneville. That park is operated by Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods under an agreement with the state.
Michele Luna, executive director of the Stewards group, said revenue from camping fees increased by 54 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year after Hipcamp was installed as the reservation agent.
Luna said that if the increase is any indication as to how effective CaliParks will be, “we can expect a great increase in state park interest and also greater social media exposure.”
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.