by Joe Wirth, President of the Mount Shasta Trail Association
On Saturday, June 18th, I was one of fifteen hikers from the Mt. Shasta Trail Association visiting Castle Crags State Park. Our destination was the base of Castle Dome to experience its well known panoramic view, but along the way the skyline, filled by the surrounding mountains, made a memorable impression of its own. As we reached the top of the trail, Mt. Shasta and its indescribable beauty simply dominated! Our group agreed this is “the” best place to lunch, and the trail is just plain fun. You can enjoy the extraordinary view, breathe the mountain air, and experience a feeling of pure openness and freedom. But I’m concerned.
Since our hike I have confirmed that there are plans for Castle Crags to close in July of 2012. In other words, the experiences our hiking group had may no longer be possible starting next year. Public access to this gem of a state park will be limited or denied altogether. It is a loss for all of us. We should not allow it to happen!
The rationale for our loss is to save money in the state budget; $11million in the first year and $22 million in the second by closing seventy state parks including Castle Crags and others in northern California. When I examine this rationale, it appears that very little long term thought has gone into the idea. There is no strategic plan for closing these parks and there appears to be limited understanding of the cost impact, either at the state or local levels. A recent panel discussion on KIXE made it very clear to quote one of the participants “we are making this up as we go along”. As stewards of these extraordinary public parks we deserve better! To save these treasures, we must all make a personal decision to become actively involved and make our views known to those who represent us locally and in Sacramento.
At the state level there seems to be no consideration given to the fact that while park closure makes all the revenues go away, it does not make the costs disappear. There are ongoing costs for maintenance of equipment, facilities and forests and for dealing with the vandalism and theft that are inevitable. These latter things are more than hypothetical since they occur now even when park rangers are present and can act to minimize their effects. When rangers are no longer present only bad outcomes will follow and get worse over the years. The real cost savings are likely to be significantly smaller than projected. And, at the state level where budget problems are in the billions, the results will be little more than a speck of dust. A very corrosive speck!
Let’s examine the impact of next July’s projected closure of Castle Crags on our south Siskiyou County businesses. Estimates from studies on the impact of state parks on local economies have found that for every dollar spent in the park, an average of $2.67 is spent in the surrounding communities. In the case of Castle Crags this amounts to over $300,000 annually from the 70,000 visitors who come to the park each year. While Dunsmuir will be most affected, Mt. Shasta, Weed and McCloud will also experience economic losses. This is hardly a time to inflict damage on local economies that are already struggling.
What can we do?
(1) Each of us can make our views known to our state and local representatives by taking the time to write letters, make calls and when possible talk directly to: the governor and lieutenant governor , the leaders of the state legislature, our local representatives to the state legislature and the head of California Parks and Recreation. Please know that I’m not usually a letter writer either, but faced with our imminent losses, I’m willing to become proactive.
(2) We can ask our local city council members to pass resolutions opposing the closure of Castle Crags. Our community should not allow this to simply slide by and do nothing to prevent the damage that will occur. Complaining after the fact will not help.
While we are actively opposing these park closures, we completely support developing a well thought out plan which we feel is essential before proposing and taking any action. For example: Can fees be modestly increased without seriously impacting park usage? (Fees are not taxes since use of park facilities is voluntary.) Can volunteer organizations contribute more? (Yes, but we do not believe that volunteer organizations can successfully operate a state park. However, they can and do take on well-defined tasks and special projects under the supervision of park rangers.) Is there an increased role for concessionaires? (Maybe. In my opinion the idea that private operators can always do a job better and more cheaply than government while making an acceptable profit is not automatically true.) Is there a possible partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, especially in a park like Castle Crags that is surrounded by Forest Service land including a wilderness area? (An idea worth investigating)
Finally, to you determined readers who have made it this far, please take some time to make your views known and take an active role in protecting this place, our home– “where heaven and earth meet.”
Governor Jerry Brown
Sacramento, CA 95814
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom
Sacramento, CA 95814
Speaker of the Assembly
John A. Perez
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0046
Senate President pro Tem
Sacramento, CA 95814
Director Ruth Coleman
Dept of Parks and Recreation
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296
Doug La Malfa
Sacramento, CA 94248-0001
Assembly Member Jim Nielsen
Sacramento, CA 94249-0002
Mt. Shasta Recreation and Parks District
P.O. Box 314
Mt. Shasta, CA 965067