Trust the Wall Street Journal to wait until California is close to finalizing park rescue bids from private companies to wade into coverage of pending state park closures here. There are – what – 50-odd deals at this point? (30 signed, and 25 in the works, according to Ruth Coleman on KQED’s Forum last week, but sources tell the Journal and KQED even more deals are on the wing.)

Grebes take it easy at Turlock Lake, about to be managed by American Land & Leisure Co. (Credit: California Department of Parks & Recreation)

Nonetheless, it’s a good story by Max Taves. This would be the state parks agency’s first corporate agreement of this kind, under which American Land & Leisure Co. would take over operations of three state parks for five years: all concessions, visitor services, security – even legal liabilities. Even so, the state still owns the parks: Brannan Island, Woodson Bridge and Turlock Lake. Another three parks, according to the Journal, are also slated for private management: Castle Crags, Benbow Lake, and Limekiln.

“I’m not aware of any state that has concessioned the entire operation of a park to a commercial company,” said Phil McKnelly, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors, a nonprofit funded by state parks.

Other cash-strapped states have discussed putting their parks under private management but then not gone through with it. Facing the possible closure of 13 of its 30 state parks, Arizona in 2010 considered auctioning off park management to private companies, said its parks director, Bryan Martin. But the state “was able to engage” cities, counties and tribes to manage the parks, he said.

Something like that is happening here, too. Last minute negotiations of all kinds are proceeding at a breakneck pace across California. But despite the sense of urgency, with July 1st and the new fiscal year just weeks away, the deals have to pencil out for all sides involved.

Revenue generation is a vital priority for every kind of would-be park rescuer – and there’s widespread agreement many of the state parks at risk of closing are at risk because they have not done well with revenue generation. In many cases, for things as basic as parking fee collection.

hdpublicplaces-modThe nonprofit California State Parks Foundation is in the process of doling out a bunch of small grants ($6,000 or less) to help various groups address the logistical problems and deferred maintenance that stand between parks and revenue generation.

Speaking of the rescue/reprieve deals with the state, Foundation spokesman Jerry Emory says a couple are putting parks on a path toward long term financial stability. But the rest of the struggling parks, he says, are at risk of closing next fiscal year. Or the year after that.

The Private Solution for State Parks 13 September,2013Rachael Myrow


Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow is KQED’s Silicon Valley Arts Reporter, covering arts, culture and technology in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties. She regularly files stories for NPR and the KQED podcast Bay Curious, and guest hosts KQED’s Forum.

Her passion for public radio was born as an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley, writing movie reviews for KALX-FM. After finishing one degree in English, she got another in journalism, landed a job at Marketplace in Los Angeles, and another at KPCC, before returning to the Bay Area to work at KQED.

She spent more than seven years hosting The California Report, and over the years has won a Peabody and three Edward R. Murrow Awards (one for covering the MTA Strike, her first assignment as a full-time reporter in 2000 as well as numerous other honors including from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television News Directors Association and the LA Press Club.
Follow @rachaelmyrow

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