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06.24.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Kat Lynch
Not On Their Watch: Parks supporters line up Saturday at Seacliff Beach.

Feelin' Fee

Volunteers just say no to state parks closures.

By Kat Lynch


A RED electric wheelchair flies down the road to the beach at a blistering two miles an hour. There, groups of children dig the classic tunnel to Australia or sculpt mermaid bodies on friends buried up to their necks in sand. At the end of the pier, families stare in awe of the cement World War I tanker.

All this could change if Gov. Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature close 80 percent of California's 279 state parks to help balance the budget deficit. The immense closure would include all of the 19 state parks and beaches in Santa Cruz County.

Saturday afternoon, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks gathered at Seacliff State Beach to solicit support and signatures from beachgoers in support of a proposed solution. While still in office last year, former District 27 Assemblyman John Laird proposed increasing the cost of annual car registration by $15. As a permanent solution, the $420 million generated annually would cover the approximately $250 million parks budget and chip away at a $1.5 billion backlog of deferred maintenance--all while creating free day admission to state parks for Californians with a current license plate.

"Montana does this and it works," Laird said in his opening remarks, adding that he speaks not only as an advocate but as a fellow parks-goer. "I touch three states parks on my bike route," he said.

Volunteers with Friends and off-duty state park employees patrolled the beach, petitions in hand, asking for support of Laird's proposition. Meanwhile, other volunteers were collecting signatures at New Brighton Beach, as well as Henry Cowell, Wilder and Nisene Marks state parks. On Monday the group announced its grand total of signatures: 1,205 people from 145 communities across the state.

"When you say state park," said Kat Bailey, an employee at Natural Bridges State Beach, "it sounds kind of abstract. But it's really not. It's this beach."

Many longtime beachgoers were shocked to hear what the volunteers had to say. Scott Valencia has come to Seacliff every year since he was a child and has continued the tradition with his family. "You can't get any better than this," he said. "You're close to the beach and you can watch your kids play. We bring our family and everyone else."

Bobbie Havers, an interpretive guide at Wilder Ranch State Park for the past 12 years, says that her park would also be closed. She recalled that some visitors asked if they could sign more than once.

"Get your friends to sign and send a postcard," Havers answered.

For more information, visit the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks at www.thatsmypark.org.


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