California Parks on Closure List Trigger Federal Payback
Nearly 1 in 5 Parks Set for Shutdown Used Fed Dollars with Promise to Keep Open
Sacramento — Several of the California state parks scheduled for closure received federal aid with strings attached, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Of the 70 parks the state plans to shutter, 13 used federal funds which require the lands be kept open for recreation permanently or be replaced by lands of equal market value and recreation usefulness.
The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) requires that state grant-assisted parklands are to remain forever available for “public outdoor recreation use” or be exchanged for lands of equivalent value. Thirteen of the California park units set to be shuttered received LWCF monies, including Portola Redwoods State Park, Russian Gulch State Park, Salton Sea State Recreation Area and Twin Lakes State Beach.
Running afoul of LWCF rules may also disqualify California from future grants. Since 1965, California has received approximately $300 million in LWCF funding. By contrast, the savings the state projects from park closures is approximately $22 million.
“These shutdowns may jeopardize a larger national investment in California’s magnificent park system,” stated California PEER Director Karen Schambach. “Our promises to keep parks open in perpetuity have to last beyond the next budget cycle.”
Federal reimbursement rules also mean that the parks cannot be closed without permission of the National Park Service (NPS). Reportedly, current discussions between the state and federal park officials regarding the 13 parks revolve around how NPS will define “closed.” If a park is open part time or on a seasonal basis, it may not violate LWCF strictures.
This is not a new controversy for California. On June 8, 2009, the NPS also warned California that its plan to close 200 state parks could even result in the forfeiture of some park lands purchased with federal funds. The state backed off those park closure plans, in part because state analysts came to realize that it was potentially significantly more expensive to shut down parks than to keep them operating.
“Hopefully, there will be a resolution that protects the greatest recreational assets,” added Schambach, who revealed the 2009 state Parks and Recreation Department memo cataloging the liabilities to the state from park shutdowns. “Closing public lands to the public should be government’s last resort.”