2023 Park Improvements for the Future | Cal Parks
Published: December 20, 2023

Together, We Improved Park Experiences in 2023 for all Future Park Visitors


From Executive Director, Rachel Norton

I’ve written before that I always appreciate the opportunity at the end of the calendar year to look back and assess the successes and challenges of the past 12 months, and this year is no exception. On reflection, I’m so grateful for the many opportunities we — the staff and board of California State Parks Foundation, our members and donors, our advocates, and our volunteers — were able to capitalize on this year to truly improve future park experiences for all Californians for generations to come. Here is where we had the most impact, together: 

Sonoma Coast State Park

Improving access to camping

We were thrilled when the Governor signed AB 618 (Bauer-Kahan), which will make some changes in the way that California State Parks manages campsite reservations. Currently, scoring a campsite reservation during peak vacation times and holiday weekends can be highly competitive. The new law, which takes effect January 1, 2024, will add incentives in the form of bigger refunds for people who cancel campsite reservations at least a week in advance. Individuals who fail to cancel reservations three or more times will be barred from reserving campsites for a period of one year. In 2025, California State Parks will also institute a lottery for its five most popular parks to make the process of securing a spot more equitable for all Californians. The final list of sites that will be included in that lottery has not yet been released, but we expect perennial favorites like Bolsa Chica State Beach, San Clemente State Beach, D.L. Bliss State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to be likely candidates.

Improving access to park programs

Our sponsored bill AB 1150 (Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee) was also signed by the Governor, a new law that will make it much easier for nonprofits to provide their programming in state parks. Currently, state law requires California State to impose special event permit fees and staffing requirements on nonprofits providing community access to parks. For example, our co-sponsor Outdoor Outreach runs programs for low-income youth like kayaking or surfing lessons on state beaches. Before AB 1150, permit fees for a four-hour beach event for a group of 12 youth could cost as much as $240, with events restricted to weekdays and a maximum frequency of three times a month. With the new law, California State Parks can enter into community access agreements with qualified nonprofits, with the authority to waive those fees and requirements.

Lowering barriers to visiting parks

In 2021, we celebrated a huge win when Governor Newsom enacted three pilot programs to lower the cost of visiting parks — the California State Park Adventure Pass, the California State Library Parks Pass, and the Golden Bear Pass. Since that time, we have been working with California State Parks to spread the word about these programs, enhance the experience of those using a pass, and encourage users to provide feedback about their experiences. In 2023, we were able to use generous donations to the program to deploy 500 backpacks in libraries that people checking out the California State Library Parks Pass could also borrow to enhance the park experience. REI contributed the backpacks, and we purchased gear like guides to flora and fauna, binoculars, a compass and more to help library card holders to explore state parks! In addition, we have provided an incentive for California State Library Parks Pass users to fill out a survey on their experiences, by providing the opportunity for those who complete the survey to win an annual park pass. This partnership is generating incredibly positive results. For example, we are learning that after utilizing the pass, park visitors are far more likely to visit more parks.

Unfortunately, the funding for these innovative access programs will expire in June 2024, and California is again facing a huge budget deficit – projected at $68 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. Please add your name to our petition urging Governor Newsom to preserve funding for the three pass programs!    

Celebrating the park system 

In 2022, California State Parks celebrated its first California State Parks Week, encouraging park staff to hold events and programs around several different themes during one week in June. As one of four presenting partners for California State Parks Week (along with California State Parks, Save the Redwoods League, and Parks California), we provided support for events in parks and helped spread the word about the event. In 2023, we continued our involvement, providing $50,000 in grants to parks to fund high-quality experiences. Planning is just kicking off for the third annual California State Parks Week, so we’ll keep you posted as more information becomes available for June 2024.  

Courtesy of California State Park

Adapting as the climate changes 

Climate change is here, and there is much work to ensure that parks are resilient as we experience more significant and more destructive weather events. Work that is necessary to preserve biodiversity and continue to serve as a refuge from extreme heat and other impacts. In 2023, we analyzed the learnings from earlier grants awarded to promote climate resilience and used those learnings to educate Californians and inspire action and investments in climate-resilient state parks. We held several well-attended educational webinars on biodiversity and climate change, and urged the Legislature to support climate resilient state parks. We are continuing to advocate for significant investments in state parks’ climate resilience in any climate bond the Legislature places on the November 2024 state ballot, a decision that will have to be made by spring 2024. 

It is exciting to reflect on all these achievements, but there is so much more left to do! We are so proud of the work we achieved together in 2023. Not only will they help preserve and protect California’s magnificent parks, but also create fantastic park experiences for your future visits. As always, I am grateful for all of the support and passion we see among state park lovers to ensure that this incredible system thrives for the long term. Onward to 2024!