Parks and Wreck: Can Our State and Local Parks Be Saved?


California’s history is rooted in its parks: 400-year-old sandstone cave paintings are in Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park; Sutter’s Mill, where gold was discovered in 1848, is in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. And the “planet” where Charlton Heston was held captive by a bunch of apes? That’s in Malibu Creek State Park. Beginning in July, 70 locations—roughly 25 percent of the state’s 278-park system—are scheduled to shutter because of budget cuts. These closures include beaches, mountains, historical buildings, and museums spanning the Oregon state line to the Mexican border.

It’s an unprecedented austerity maneuver but not a surprise to California State Parks officials. “We’ve never in our history closed a park for budget reasons,” says spokesman Roy Stearns. “But people have to understand our budget has been going down since the late 1970s.”

In this video from 2010, Supervisor Gloria Molina talks about the importance of green space and urges L.A. residents to help the city look for ways to save our cash-strapped parks. 

Now government funds allocated for maintaining California’s parks are half of what they were 30 years ago, cut from $250 million to $112 million. Shaving expenses further by deferring maintenance for roofs, trails, and sewage systems hasn’t been enough. Authorities have since determined a park’s future based on its significance, visitor numbers, and revenue.

Four parks in L.A. County are fighting to survive: Santa Susana Pass, Los Encinos, Antelope Valley Indian Museum, and Pio Pico. Raising money has been a struggle. Trees and rocks aren’t as attractive to corporate partners as, say, stadiums (though burrito chain Chipotle has pledged $100,000). Los Encinos, a five-acre space on the corner of Balboa and Ventura boulevards, has secured enough cash to keep the gates open another year. Pio Pico, the former Whittier ranch estate named after the last governor of “Alta California,” has come up short, despite efforts by volunteers and staff. “Until we save our parks,” says Carolyn Schoff, president of the California League of Park Associations and a fund-raiser for Pio Pico, “this is a 24/7 venture for me.”

Click here to see four of L.A. County’s endangered green spots and their back stories before they’re gone.