Today is our first virtual Park Advocacy Day! While I wish we could all be together in person, I am inspired by everyone’s commitment to join virtually today.
It has been 50 years since California State Parks Foundation was founded, and a lot has happened in that time. In 1969, a group of men and woman sat in the governor’s office in Sacramento discussing an idea. When they left the office, they had volunteered to be the first Board for California State Parks Foundation, and the organization was born.
There are many organizations supporting California state parks that have a similar origin, a group of people coming together for a park or group of parks, that needed advocates. This is something we all share, it is our collective passion, and strength.
We advocate because we care deeply about the future of our parks. We are determined that California’s priceless natural and cultural heritage will not be lost to future generations. Park advocates are in the very DNA of state parks. There is Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, which was set aside by Colonel James Armstrong and his family to be protected. This park was on the closure list in 2008, and we all fought to keep it open.
There is Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, a town started by United States Army Veteran Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth along with many others, who sought to build a town where African Americans could own property, learn, and live the American Dream. The park was protected from multiple developments and closure in 2008, and again in 2009, and we all fought to keep it open. And Henry W. Coe State Park, a cattle ranch that was the home of Henry Willard Coe, Jr. and his family. This park was on the closure list in 2008, 2009, and 2011, and we fought to keep it open. And just to name a few more: Jack London, John Little, Julia Pfeiffer Burns, D.L. Bliss, Will Rogers, Samuel Burney, John Bidwell, all park advocates in their own right.
And that is why we hold Park Advocacy Day, to carry on the tradition of park advocates that came before us, and gave us these precious state parks. It may feel like we are in a similar situation to park closures, and it might be, but we are ready to fight and advocate for these special places.
So what are we fighting for?
That parks are adequately funded through the California state budget as the budget goes through the revise and approval process.
That staff positions remain filled to improve the visitor experience and keep up the ongoing work happening in parks.
That maintenance is not deferred even more than it has already been over the years.
That park programs remain available to all Californians, so visitors can engage with the natural and cultural resources every park has to offer. Even though these programs may look different right now, they incredibly value for Californians.
And that partners are supported to operate and provide programming in parks when they are able to fully re-open.
So how do we do that?
Especially in a time where the world looks different and there is so much uncertainty.
WE ENGAGE CALIFORIANS: Educating Californians about the significant role parks and outdoor experiences play during this health crisis, highlighting safety right now and the urgent need to support our parks.
WE ADAPT AND SUPPORT EACH OTHER: Delivering intentional programming that is responsive to the needs and challenges that threaten the future of the state park system.
WE UPHOLD CURRENT PARK INVESTMENTS: Lobbying for essential resources necessary to keep state parks available and responsive to the needs of Californians.
WE REDUCE BARRIERS: Advocating for policies that reduce financial barriers to state parks specifically for those Californians who, because of the impact of this health and economic crisis, need access to the mental health and wellness benefits parks provide.
And what can we do now?
We can meet this moment by coming together throughout the legislative process and making sure parks and park partners have what they need for Californians.
We will educate and inform the state park sector about budget, legislative, and policy impact.
We will activate and mobilize parks advocates for impactful engagement on critical calls to action.
To influence the Governor’s Administration and Legislators keep parks top of mind during critical budget and policy decisions for California.
And this will take all of us, our collective voice, to make sure we are heard.
Parks are transformative and we are adapting and changing quickly to make sure those transformations are still possible, for the future park advocates and the future of parks.
I look forward to an engaging Park Advocacy Day, as we meet this moment, for parks. This is not our first fight for parks, and it will not be our last, but it is a challenge worthy of us all.
Executive Director, California State Parks Foundation