Over the past few years, especially since the “parks closure crisis” of 2012, California State Parks staff have taken a lot of heat. And, to be sure, our parks face real challenges — like a severely depleted workforce, declining appropriations, and competition for limited resources from other pressing social needs, including education, health care and critical services for low-income, elderly and disabled Californians.
But take it from someone who visits our State Parks regularly: they remain a wonder of the world, staffed by an experienced, dedicated cadre of naturalists and rangers who deserve our heartfelt appreciation and support.
My good friend Bob Hansen recently wrote me to report on a trip he and his family made to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, to hike in the South Grove and take in the new visitor center and orientation film. Here’s some of what Bob had to say about his experience:
“Calaveras is a very impressive counterpoint to what many people are saying about ‘dysfunction’ in the State Parks, their state of disrepair, and the staff and public’s lack of engagement the parks. In fact, Calaveras Big Trees’ brand-spanking-new visitor center, with an orientation film done by David Vassar, is superb. The Calaveras Big Trees Association poured $500,000 (including $75,000 from Save Redwoods League) into the new center, and while I was there the Association held its annual Family Day—staff, families and kids everywhere, State Park rangers out in abundance—the place was obviously hitting on all cylinders!
Use of the visitor center has increased from less than 50 percent of park visitors to well over 80 percent, and sales by the Association have increased dramatically as well. Park Superintendent Gary Olsen spoke excitedly about the new visitor center and his plan to convert of a couple of existing houses and several campsites into cabins to accommodate more overnight visitors and aimed especially to accommodate the needs of single-parent families.
Gary is as good a superintendent as you’ll find in any park system anywhere, and Calaveras is a park that really approaches excellence. So the yin and yang of the search for excellence in State Parks continues to be very hard to fathom. Uncertainty continues to be the order of the day, and without question change is needed to secure State Parks for the future, but don’t believe everything you read, we have a great base to build from!”
Thanks, Bob, I’m already planning my next adventure in Calaveras Big Trees’ South Grove, and hoping folks who read this will take a cue from your note, tour the new visitor center, hike in the South Grove and enjoy the fruits of State Parks’ and Save the Redwoods League’s nearly hundred-year effort to preserve the big trees. So, as you’re one to say, Bob, “Happy trails.”
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