Shrinking the State Park Closure List

Nov 9, 2011

Santa Cruz, CA – The Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park is one of nine parks in the Santa Cruz and Monterey State Park Districts that's set to close by July because of state budget cuts. Seventy parks are set to close statewide. The park is home to Santa Cruz County's oldest building, a Mission adobe. "So the Ohlone people who were inducted into the Mission lived in family housing in this building, and we look at the story of the Mission through their perspective," said Park Interpreter Julie Sidel.

On a recent field trip to the Mission, third graders from DeLaveaga Elementary learned about this piece of their county's history through storytelling and hands-on experiences. They each got to try out jobs held by the Ohlone people. The kids made corn tortillas, wax candles and mud bricks. Much of their experience was made possible by the non-profit group, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. It funds the craft materials, the park interpreter and plays a large role in keeping the Mission open just three days a week. Bonny Hawley is Executive Director of the 35-year-old organization. She said non-profits like Friends of Santa Cruz started in the 1970s. "The idea was they would add extras, add value, do community fundraising and do the sort of the icing on the cake, but as the state parks budget has been chipped away at over a period of decades really, the role of the non-profits has gotten bigger and bigger," said Hawley.

Now the Friends' role could grow again. Last month Governor Jerry Brown signed a law making it easier for non profits to take over the operation of state parks. Statewide agreements are in the works to keep 14 parks on the closure list open. "That still leaves 56 on the closure list, and we're not done looking. We're looking at anybody and everybody that might come along with a good viable idea. That's a nonprofit, city, county, maybe even a private corporation that wants to do some kind of a concession contract for a period of time. We're open and will to listen to creative ideas," said Roy Stearns, Deputy Director of Communications for California State Parks.

Hawley says Friends is working on an agreement to keep the Santa Cruz Mission open. "I'm hoping that this is a temporary solution," said Hawley, "parks, schools, libraries, these are all the things that make a society. They make it a good place to live. They add to the quality of life of California, and it isn't the sort of thing where you want to be having to have a bake sale to run everything that is good about the state of California." Taking over operations of the Mission means Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks would have to fund things like ranger patrol, utilities and maintenance. "I think we are going to have to really turn to the community and see if this something that they want to support. And we're willing to rally and see what we can do," said Hawley. Keeping the Santa Cruz Mission open for future visitors and field trips will cost about $100,000 a year.