From Executive Director Rachel Norton
The appointment of a Director to lead the California Department of Parks and Recreation is an incredibly important moment for California’s state parks. The Director leads a complex agency that employs thousands of people and manages 280 parks -- including 340 miles of coastline, 970 miles of lake and river frontage, 15,000 campsites, and 4,500 miles of trails. California’s Department of Parks and Recreation is the largest and most diverse recreational, natural, and cultural heritage holdings of any state agency in the nation (more fun facts are on the agency’s website). And beyond the day-to-day responsibilities, the appointment also represents the Governor’s priorities for public lands, for the health of Californians, and the conservation of California’s incredible natural and cultural resources.
Since the days of our founder, State Parks Director William Penn Mott Jr., California State Parks Foundation has enjoyed a close relationship with the Department of Parks and Recreation, working with park staff and leadership every day to protect and preserve the California state park system, for the benefit of all. This will never change.
On August 19, Governor Newsom announced that he would appoint Armando Quintero to the Director role. While I personally have met Acting Director Quintero only briefly, other California State Parks Foundation staff have worked with him over the years, primarily in his role as the Executive Director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced. They’ve found him to be an experienced and knowledgeable park professional (he spent nearly 20 years as a park ranger and leader at the National Park Service), as well as someone who cares deeply about innovation and collaboration with partners.
For these reasons, we believe the selection of Acting Director Quintero is an exceptional choice to lead California’s state parks at a crucial moment when our parks face many challenges, and many opportunities:
Challenge: Budget – As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has done serious damage to California’s once-booming economy, taking our budget surplus along with the lives of thousands of Californians. Too often, state parks have borne the brunt of budget cuts, and we are very thankful to our members and partners who rallied to convince legislators to shelve proposed cuts to parks in the budget signed by the Governor on June 29. However, significant cuts could still materialize in updates to the budget if the economic downturn continues to worsen or Federal help does not arrive.
Challenge: Climate change – Last week, over 300 fires were burning in California due to an unprecedented series of lightning strikes and thunderstorms. We are all becoming used to a new normal “fire season” every August through November, but it’s worth remembering this is not normal. California did not burn this way decades ago. The climate has changed, and the change is wreaking havoc. This year so far, we have lost much of Big Basin State Park, and as I write this other well-loved state parks in Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Sonoma counties are threatened. In 2018 the Santa Monica Mountains and Leo Carillo State Park burned in the Woolsey Fire. And in 2017, Trione-Annadel State Park and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park burned in the terrible fires that devastated Santa Rosa and other parts of Sonoma county. We must prioritize climate resiliency if we are to preserve California’s incredible natural spaces for future generations.
Opportunity: Unprecedented park use – During a global pandemic, when theaters, bars, restaurants, and other businesses are largely shut down, there isn’t much to do, and you can only watch TV for so long. Since March, Californians have flocked to their parks and beaches for a break from sheltering-in-place. At times park users have not observed social distancing and mask requirements, resulting in stern warnings and curtailed access. But the fact remains, Californians need their parks more than ever during a health crisis, and everyone should to be able to enjoy the health and wellness benefits our parks offer.
Opportunity: Equity and access – Similarly, not everyone has equitable access to state parks, even though we know that 57 percent of Californians live a short drive, walk or bike ride from a state park. Because of transportation and cost barriers, as well as systemic racism, challenged communities and people of color experience greater barriers to access than their wealthier and whiter neighbors. When these public places equitably support health, wealth and quality of life for all Californians, we build a more sustainable future for everyone.
Opportunity: Green stimulus – The economic downturn and partisan gridlock in Washington have intensified calls for a green economic stimulus here in California. We know that the climate resiliency and deferred maintenance needs in state parks can be powerful job creators and we are pushing hard for investments in our state parks as part of any future economic stimulus package.
As I’ve written above, we believe the appointment of Acting Director Quintero is an unequivocally positive development for the Department of Parks and Recreation. And, on behalf of the staff and Board of California State Parks Foundation, I offer heartfelt thanks and appreciation to outgoing Director Lisa Mangat for all the work she has done to transform the Department of Parks and Recreation and update its approach to budgeting, hiring, and partnership. She arrived at a time when California’s state parks were struggling and she worked tirelessly to stabilize operations and lift up the Department of Parks and Recreation’s contributions to the health, wealth, and happiness of Californians. We wish her well.
As Acting Director Quintero orients himself in the coming weeks, I hope to bring you much more information about his priorities for our parks and how we, jointly, can help. My promise to you – partners, volunteers, members, donors, supporters and all Californians – is that together we will always push to protect, sustain, and expand access to our incredible state park system.