Outdoors: We won't be fooled a second time by parks department

adamblauert@yahoo.comAugust 1, 2012 

I get excited when I find a few bucks in a pair of pants I haven't worn for a long time. Finding money you didn't know you had is always a good surprise.

Unless, of course, you're California's Department of Parks and Recreation and you've spent the last year convincing the public that you are bankrupt and that concerned citizens must donate and raise funds to save beloved parks from closure.

DPR just discovered nearly $54 million -- right after individuals, organizations, and local governments managed to raise funds to keep open nearly all of the 70 parks slated for closure.

Shortly after agreements were signed to keep most of the parks open, news came that a high-level official at DPR had secretly paid himself and other members of headquarters staff for an unauthorized buyout of vacation time.

That was bad PR, but worse was soon to follow. Less than a week later it was discovered that nearly $5 million was sitting around in DPR accounts. While more than half is designated for off-highway vehicle recreation, the remaining $20 million would have been enough to cover a year of operating costs at the parks that had been slated for closure.

Of course no one at DPR claims to have known about the money. Whether the problem is incompetence, dishonesty, or a combination of both, the people who worked to keep the parks open feel betrayed. When funding is needed for 2013, it's likely that a majority of last year's willing donors won't be so willing.

Need money again? Nice try. We're not that dumb. Use some of your secret money.

Like many other supporters, I feel I was lied to and used. Unless major changes are made, I won't be such a staunch supporter next time around. The bridge is burned.

If trust and transparency are not restored, the parks may indeed close next time. A lot of wrongs can be made right with $54 million. The people responsible are at the top -- the rangers and local administrators were as misinformed as the rest of us. Blame needs to be placed where it belongs and people need to be held accountable. If you can lose track of nearly $54 million, you shouldn't be in charge of anything -- not even making your own breakfast.

One thing should be done right away: We need to demand that the state keep Mariposa's California State Mining and Mineral Museum open. The county and its citizens did much to bring the museum to the area and to support it over the past 19 years. They've done far more than originally was expected of them and feel they have been betrayed by the state. The closing of a major attraction is a big deal in a tourism-dependent economy.

DPR should also repair and reopen the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. Since closure, it has sustained at least $100,000 in damage from vandalism. We aren't saving much money by keeping it closed.

Want to be reminded why this is important? Visit a state park. Last week I got the chance to spend the afternoon hiking at Montaña de Oro State Park near Moro Bay. The 3½-mile Bluff Trail, an easy out and back route, has spectacular views of the ocean and provides access to a small, secluded beach. The trail starts near the visitor center and campground where a larger beach at Spooner's Cove is only a few steps away from the parking lot.

Forty-eight sites in the campground are available for reservations at www.reserveamerica.com. No entry fee is charged for day-use and trails are open for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Beach trails are popular with equestrian users and are adjacent to the equestrian campground. The park's name (Mountain of Gold) is no mystery in spring when the slopes are covered with wildflowers. No matter what the season, however, it's a beautiful place.

Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com

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