Hikers enjoy a spring day in Henry Coe State Park. A ballot initiative in November would preserve this and the other State Parks Photo: Cynthia Leeder
California has 278 state parks; they encompass the beauty of its deserts, mountains, forests, and beaches. These state parks have been in a long period of decline, reaching a critical stage two and a half years ago when Governor Schwarzenegger, in response to the state's massive budget deficit, proposed closing 48 parks.
But voters may soon have an opportunity to rescue the ailing park system and restore it to health. The proposed State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act would provide permanent, stable, and safe funding for state parks and wildlife conservation by imposing an $18 surcharge on the vehicle license fee. By the time this article goes to press, this proposal will almost certainly have qualified as an initiative on the November ballot. The annual $18 fee would provide Californians with year-round free dayuse access to any state park. I hope that all of you will support this initiative and that some of you will join the campaign for its passage.
State Parks Preserved in Perpetuity
Many men and women — hard-working citizens, passionate visionaries, legislators and governors from both parties — gave money and land and years of patient labor and tireless agitation to create the California State Park system, making it one of the wonders of the world. Andrew P. Hill, a San Jose photographer, founded the Sempervirens Club in 1900 to save the last virgin stands of redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which were rapidly falling to rapacious and relentless loggers. In 1901, almost by sheer force of will, he succeeded in getting legislation passed to establish California Redwood State Park (now Big Basin), and spent the rest of his life fighting for his beloved redwoods. He wrote in a 1922 letter, "Twentytwo years ago, I conceived the idea that as these forests were rapidly being destroyed by lumbermen, ... a tract should be set aside ... to be forever preserved in a state of nature for a play ground and camping place for the people."
In January of 1928, Frederick Law Olmsted, whose father had played a major role in preserving Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, was assigned the task of surveying the entire state of California for suitable sites for state parks. By the end of the year, he and his team had surveyed over 300 potential sites and identified 125 that he recommended as parks. In 1945 Olmsted wrote, "In various reports ... the State Park System has been characterized as 'California's continuing effort to preserve, in perpetuity, areas of outstanding natural, historical, and recreational interest of which the people otherwise would become deprived.' "
Sada Coe operated a ranch in the rugged hills east of Morgan Hill. A tough rancher and a sensitive poet, in 1953 she donated her 13,000- acre ranch to Santa Clara County. This would become Henry W. Coe State Park, which has since grown to 88,000 acres. At a dedication ceremony in 1955 in honor of her father, she said, "I hope this park will bring happiness and pleasure to the people of the State of California for many years to come, and may the blessings of these mountains be with you all forever." What has been left to us by those who came before us, we must preserve and pass on to those who come after.
John Wilkinson is the Chapter's wilderness chair.