California State Library Parks Pass Initiative Delivers on Helping Californians Access Nature | Cal Parks

18 October 2023

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New data highlights success of the library pass program, demonstrates need to permanently fund initiative in state budget

SACRAMENTO, CA – The California State Parks Foundation today released compelling new survey data highlighting the success of the California State Library Parks Pass program. The California State Library Parks Pass program was launched in 2021 as a three-year pilot program to remove income barriers that keep people from visiting state parks. The program gives library card holders free vehicle day-use entry to over 200 participating state parks.

“The California State Library Parks Pass program is delivering on helping more Californians access nature,” said Rachel Norton, Executive Director of California State Parks Foundation. “Thanks to this initiative, we’re breaking down barriers to visiting state parks and opening up opportunities for California’s residents to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of spending time outdoors.”

The California State Park Library Pass survey was administered by California State Parks and supported by the California State Park Foundation. Key insights from the survey include the following:

  • A majority of participants (63%) previously considered cost to be their main reason for not having visited state parks previously.

  • Thanks to the park pass program, a staggering 90% of respondents now plan to visit state parks over 7 times a year.

  • Nearly 70% of the survey’s respondents indicated an income level of $60,000 or less.

  • Over 63% of respondents indicated that they are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC).

Since the start of the program, 33,000 California State Parks Library Passes have been placed in more than 1,100 public libraries throughout the state. The program first started in 2021 with 5,000 available passes. Due to the popularity of the initiative, California State Parks added an additional 28,000 passes earlier in 2023. Library-card holders are able to check out the pass and then return the pass to the library for others to use. Libraries report that these passes are one of their most checked-out items.

At select library locations, participants can also check out a backpack along with the pass (with gear like binoculars, compasses, and wildlife guides) thanks to the California State Parks Foundation and REI.

The Library Parks pass program is one of three such initiatives to make state parks more accessible to Californians. The California State Parks Foundation launched the Pathways to Parks campaign, an effort championed by First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and the California Natural Resources Agency’s Outdoors for All initiative

This collaboration resulted in pilot program funding in the state budget for three innovative park access programs. In addition to the California State Library Parks Pass, these programs also include the California State Park Adventure Pass and the Golden Bear Pass.

  • Since the program’s launch, more than 48,000 students have received a California State Park Adventure Pass. The California State Park Adventure Pass gives fourth graders and their families who live in the state a free pass to access 19 selected state parks for a full year.

  • More than 63,000 families have received a Golden Bear Pass. The Golden Bear Pass makes it easier for families who receive CalWORKs, individuals who receive supplemental security income, income-eligible Californians over the age of 62, and participants of California’s Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program to receive a free annual, vehicle day-use pass valid at over 200 participating state parks.

With these pilot efforts expiring in 2024, California State Parks Foundation is urging Governor Newsom and the California State Legislature to include $9 million in the state budget and establish permanent park pass programs. A stable and permanent investment would help  ensure continued equitable access to California state parks.

“These programs have already made a significant impact, benefiting thousands of students and families and promoting the physical and mental well-being of Californians,” continued Rachel Norton, Executive Director of the California State Parks Foundation. “We urge the Governor and State Legislature to fully and permanently fund this effort, starting with the 2024-2025 budget.”

For additional background information, please see “Pathways to Parks: Successful Park Pass Programs.”