Funding for Popular California Park Access Program Eliminated in State Budget | Cal Parks


May 16, 2024

California State Parks Foundation Calls on the Legislature to Restore Funding

SACRAMENTO, CA – California State Parks Foundation today responded to Governor Newsom’s revised 2024-2025 budget and raised concern about the elimination of funding for a popular state park access program, the California State Library Parks Pass.

“We are extremely concerned about the Governor’s proposal to end this highly effective and popular program providing free access to California state parks,” said Rachel Norton, Executive Director of California State Parks Foundation. “The California State Library Parks Pass is critical to our state’s goal of a healthier, more equitable California for All.”

The California State Library Parks Pass gives library card holders free vehicle day-use entry to over 200 participating state parks. Since the start of the program, 33,000 California State Library Parks Passes have been placed in more than 1,100 public libraries. Libraries report that these passes are one of their most checked-out items.

The Newsom Administration will, however, continue the popular California State Park Adventure Pass, which gives fourth graders and their families who live in the state free access to 54 parks for an entire year. It will also continue the revamped Golden Bear Pass program, which 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. More than 63,000 families have received a Golden Bear Pass since it was revamped in 2021.

Admission fees or parking charges can be financially burdensome for many residents, particularly those with lower incomes,” continued Norton. “The cost of entry can deter people from experiencing the natural wonders within these parks, thereby excluding them from the numerous physical and mental health benefits, educational opportunities, and recreational activities that these spaces offer. These initiatives bridge this gap and should be a priority.”

Governor Newsom's California for All vision emphasizes equity across all state programs. As part of that vision, the California Natural Resources Agency’s recently finalized “Outdoors for All” framework lays out goals for expanding parks in communities lacking outdoor spaces, supporting access programs, and fostering a sense of belonging for all Californians in the outdoors. In 2021, the Governor and First Partner, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, championed all three pass pilot programs as a way to make progress on these ambitious plans.

Last year, the California State Parks Foundation released compelling survey data highlighting the success of the California State Library Parks Pass program. The survey yielded these key insights which show the impact and importance of the program:

  • A majority of respondents (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 seven 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).

“It is incomprehensible that, after all the hard work to create and start administering this popular program, and documented success in achieving a key policy goal of the Newsom Administration, that the California State Library Parks Pass would lose funding,” said Norton. “California State Parks Foundation and grassroots advocates from around the state will be urging the Legislature to restore this funding as the budget process moves forward.”

California State Parks Foundation is calling on legislators to restore $3 million for the California State Library Parks Pass program which equates to about 50% of its current funding level.

In addition, California State Parks Foundation is also urging legislators to prioritize funding for enhancing the state parks system’s resilience to climate change.  As highlighted in California State Parks Foundation’s recent report on climate change and state parks, up to 75% of California’s beaches may vanish due to sea level rise by 2100. As the manager of almost one-quarter of California’s coastline, California State Parks is on the front line of sea level rise adaptation.

“These budget cuts underscore the need for a November climate bond that funds these important priorities for Californians,” continued Norton. “California’s state parks are at risk from the climate crisis and time is running out to protect them. We need bold action to create a climate-resilient state parks system.”

Despite huge budget surpluses in 2021 and 2022, California state parks received almost no funding for climate adaptation and resilience. In the most recent May Revision, Governor Newsom proposed slashing what little funding remains to address the state budget crisis.

Californians can add their voices in support in support of funding for the California State Library Parks Pass here and in support of climate funding for California’s state parks here.

 Resources for Media: Please see here for media background materials, photos, and video.