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05.27.09

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Bullhorn:

Friends of Santa Cruz Parks executive director Bonny Hawley on the local parks/staycation connection.

By Bonny Hawley


TRAVEL writers are closely tracking the new stay-local vacation, or "staycation," trend sweeping the state and the nation. Our local state parks are a good measure of that trend, with campsite bookings and day visitor numbers up significantly. In fact, at Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks we're joining in and inviting visitors and locals alike to explore our state parks and "discover our back yard."

The deep recession that brought us staycations, however, is also fueling California's state budget crisis. Last week, the budget situation got much worse when California voters soundly defeated every ballot measure offered as a solution to narrow the huge gap in the state budget. The ballot box defeat ballooned the projected budget shortfall from $15.4 billion to a staggering $21.3 billion. The election results accentuate the bizarre circular dynamic of an economic downturn that is driving people to vacation locally at our phenomenal parks and beaches that operate using funds from a state budget that is dramatically shrinking due to in large part to ... an economic downturn.

There is good news in the midst of the meltdown: dedication to conservation and our coastal environment remains a core value in Santa Cruz County. Local volunteers and donors have not only helped keep our state parks alive with educational and stewardship programs, but have allowed Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks to pursue vital advocacy that has kept parks open and lifeguards stationed on our beaches.

To fend off the effects of the state budget crisis, stalwart local support will be essential. It's the kind of support for local state parks that has been consistent for more than 30 years, enabling Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks' work to preserve precious state park lands here in our back yard--15 locations, covering nearly 20,000 acres from Coast Dairies to the Pajaro River. Locally we've got a great story to build on, providing memorable experiences for nearly 11 million visitors annually and many recent successes of which to be proud:

  • Funding education for nearly 210,000 visitors through programs such as tours and hikes, living history demonstrations, campfire programs, volunteer training, Junior Rangers and Junior Lifeguards

  • Renovating the historic Meder House at Wilder Ranch State Park

  • Preserving the monarch grove at Natural Bridges State Beach

  • Restoring native plants at Laguna Creek in Coast Dairies State Park

  • Saving the venerable Castro Adobe

    Our local state parks and beaches provide something for everyone--whether it's campfire storytelling and music with friends and family, mountain biking and hiking to get a workout and view beautiful vistas, birding in serene bluffs and forests, exploring fascinating tide-pools, or getting a taste of history through hands-on ranch experiences.

    As we steel ourselves as a community for the coming state budget impacts, and as our families continue to battle our way through the recession, finding new and meaningful ways to connect with our coastal environment is becoming more important.

    We can call them staycation destinations or, simply, our back yard. Either way, Santa Cruz County's state parks and beaches are there for us during these challenging times. With continued community support, we can return the favor through strong, dedicated stewardship.

    Bonny Hawley is executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. For more information, visit www.thatsmypark.org or 831.429.1840.


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