Our Three-Year Vision for State Parks | Cal Parks
Published: September 5, 2023


We took most of the last year to think deeply about what parks and Californians need from California State Parks Foundation right now. For over 50 years that has been our commitment — to be there for what parks need.

Early in our history, California State Parks Foundation helped grow the system by acquiring land for the state, thereby preserving these treasures for generations to come. As the new millennium approached, the California state park system began to show its age with crumbling infrastructure and mounting deferred maintenance. It was also increasingly apparent that many Californians do not have access to their state parks and all the health and wellness benefits they provide. State parks were suffering at the mercy of the state’s boom-and-bust budget cycle and were a target for development threats such as road construction, powerline corridors, trains, racetracks, golf courses, and more. California State Parks Foundation needed to increase its advocacy and presence in Sacramento to defend the state park system in the Capitol. 

Over the course of over 50 years, the organization has adapted to the changes in California, the state park system, the people who live here, and visitors from near and far. To think deeply about what parks needed, we followed an intentional process of listening, reflecting and collaborating, and planning for the future. 

California State Parks Foundation staff park tour, September 2022

Our process  

In October 2022, California State Parks Foundation started to partner with consultants that would help in this work. Mission Met was the perfect partner to engage with on this journey. Mission Met works to make strategic planning simpler and more effective for mission-driven leaders. They put an emphasis on approaching strategic planning as an on-going and never ending process — not as an event. 

We listened to our community to understand our strength and challenges through over 20 interviews and additional survey responses from our staff, our board, California State Parks staff, consultants, and park partners throughout California. The feedback was invaluable with many partners grappling with similar challenges, like climate change and park equity, and expressed appreciation for California State Parks Foundation’s strengths, contributions, and the opportunity to provide feedback. 

Through reflection and collaboration we identified focus areas for the next three years. Our staff and board came together to discuss the feedback we receive from our community, our unique role, and priority to move forward. Through this process we identified five focus areas — three programmatic and two operational — that taken together will deepen the impact and capacity of the organization to protect and preserve the California state park system. These are:  

  • Defending parks: Working with our network of partners to identify looming issues for individual parks and the park system, then crafting effective strategies to defend against threats.  

  • Developing solutions: Pursuing innovative programs and projects that exemplify solutions to issues facing state parks, and then we scale them statewide, through funding, awareness, and advocacy.  

  • Building a movement: Building a diverse, inclusive movement of park champions, enabling Californians to engage with, experience and advocate for their state parks.   

  • Strengthening operational excellence: Improving business planning, processes, staff recruitment, engagement and culture, and the integration of justice, equity, inclusion, and diversity into the fabric of the organization. 

  • Enhanced governance: The Board of Trustees actively supports and promotes our organizational vision, values and programs, has well-defined roles and responsibilities, and is engaged, diverse, and collaborative. 

We are planning for the future and focusing on four key program areas in support and collaboration with parks. Every program, every initiative, and every action we take at California State Parks Foundation follows an intentional through-line: we learn, we educate, we activate, and we influence. This through-line extends and amplifies our in-the-field learnings, model programs, and innovative solutions to ultimately influence policy and funding decisions in Sacramento and address the critical needs of our state park system, for the benefit of all.    

Focusing on these four areas will help us deepen the impact of our programs, defined below:  

  • Climate Resilience: We are using the best available science and research to learn deeply about climate threats and solutions, educate Californians and the Legislature, activate people to take action, and ultimately influence policy and legislation that prioritizes the communities most impacted by climate change.  

  • Access and Experiences: While California state parks are public spaces, many people cannot access or experience them. Barriers to park access include lack of transportation, cost of visiting, lack of awareness of parks or the activities they offer, closures, and more. Though we are working to reduce these barriers, this is just the beginning of the effort to ensure that every Californian feels welcome in and can enjoy state parks.  

  • Park Excellence: Sufficient staffing, adequate funding, and effective park policies are critical to ensuring a thriving state park system. We work to achieve park excellence by fighting for a fully funded California state park system and by creating thriving partnership programs so that state parks can benefit from all the work of nonprofit partners.  

  • Park Stewardship: By expanding park staff’s capacity, volunteers help overcome resource constraints and carry out essential tasks such as trail maintenance, habitat restoration, planting, and more. Their involvement fosters community engagement and connection, spreading awareness and inspiring others to appreciate and protect these natural and cultural treasures.  

The next three years will be an exciting, fast-moving time at California State Parks Foundation. We welcome you to join us — volunteer, advocate, donate, or follow us on social media to help us along this path. 

We welcome honest and critical feedback throughout this process and hope our parks community will join us in this journey for a more resilient and connected California state parks space. Please email info@calparks.org with any feedback or questions you may have.