Park Advocacy Day: A View From the Trenches

A guest post BY MICHAEL HANRAHAN

Michael is a long-time park advocate and is a regular at CSPF’s Annual Park Advocacy.

This year marks my fourth time attending Park Advocacy Day, an annual event sponsored by the California State Parks Foundation. The all-day event brings concerned citizens and state park supporters from all over California to Sacramento. We spend much of the day walking the halls of the State Capitol building, meeting with legislators, and lobbying them to take a stand on legislation related to our state parks. It’s a great experience to become a lobbyist for a day, and to take part in grassroots political action on a very meaningful level.

My 2012 Park Advocacy Day Team: George Loyer, Kirsten Schulz, Avery Dinauer, M.J. Wickham, and myself.

My 2012 Park Advocacy Day Team: George Loyer, Kirsten Schulz, Avery Dinauer, M.J. Wickham, and myself.

The day starts out with an informal breakfast, during which time the teams of four to five people get to meet each other and look over the day’s assignments. Teams are organized by region of the state, and generally meet with legislators from their particular part of the state. There are some exceptions to this though, so flexibility is critical to getting the most out of Park Advocacy Day. My Bay Area team has usually met with Democratic legislators who are strong supporters of state parks, such as former Assemblyman Jared Huffman, Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, and Senators Mark Leno and Noreen Evans. Last year, we had the chance to meet with an aide to Assemblyman Donald Wagner, an Orange County Republican, who also expressed strong support for our state parks. This provided us with a great opportunity to see how issues related to state parks enjoy the support of people across the political spectrum.

I had the chance to meet with Senator Mark Leno at Park Advocacy Day in 2011.

I had the chance to meet with Senator Mark Leno at Park Advocacy Day in 2011.

A lot has changed since 2010, the first year I attended Park Advocacy Day. One of the big issues at the time was then-Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to link funding for state parks to approval of offshore oil drilling leases along the Santa Barbara Channel. The “oil for parks” proposal, which coincided with some of the early threats to close state parks, was ultimately shot down, mainly due to its absurdity.

By 2011, the budget cuts to state parks had reached crisis level, and much of the discussion at Park Advocacy Day was related to the impending and much dreaded park closure list, which was finally released about two months later. One of the most important pieces of legislation that year was AB 42, authored by Jared Huffman, which paved the way for nonprofit organizations to enter into Operating Agreements and Donor Agreements with DPR. We lobbied hard for this bill and were very gratified to see it passed unanimously by the Assembly, by a huge majority in the Senate, and signed by Governor Brown later that year.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman speaks to 2010 Park Advocacy Day attendees on the steps of the Capitol.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman speaks to 2010 Park Advocacy Day attendees on the steps of the Capitol.

In 2012, the fight to keep open the 70 parks on the closure list was in full swing. Park Advocacy Day was attended by many representatives of organizations associated with parks on the closure list. The sense of urgency was palpable, along with a determination to fight hard to prevent any park closures from taking place. One of my assigned meetings was with Assemblyman Jared Huffman, whose AB 42 was already being put into practice by a number of organizations. The large group meeting, which included three other teams, was more like a pep rally than a lobbying meeting.

One of the best parts of Park Advocacy Day is walking around the State Capitol building. With its neoclassical architecture featuring a central rotunda topped by an expansive dome, the building takes its inspiration from the ancient Greeks, as well as the design of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. It is a style that has come to represent the home of democracy, a place where the people have a voice in their government. The State Capitol in Sacramento has an especially strong significance to park advocates, because the building itself is one of California’s 280 state parks. Its portrait-lined hallways and intricately carved staircases serve the purpose of wilderness trails and pathways that lead us to our assigned destinations.

The State Capitol building is one of California's 280 state parks.

The State Capitol building is one of California’s 280 state parks.

For people who love and cherish our state parks, Park Advocacy Day is an important day to make our voices heard, at a time when parks throughout the state are facing threats from budget cuts, nearby development, vandalism, and neglect.  Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect who authored the Preliminary Report that created the California state parks system in 1864, wrote about the importance of protecting the great scenic wonders of our state:

“It is the will of the nation as embodied in the act of Congress that this scenery shall never be private property, but that like certain defensive points upon our coast it shall be solely for public purposes.”

This year, Park Advocacy Day offers park supporters a chance to savor the victories of the past year with a sense of cautious optimism. State parks still face formidable obstacles, including a backlog of deferred maintenance that exceeds $1 billion. But the morning light after a long dark night seems to be emerging now, like the winter sun rising above the distant horizon. It’s a view that can be cherished from many of our state parks.

Wildlife and Birds on an RV Trip to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

A guest post BY Joe Laing, El MONTE RV

Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals, your nationwide source for RV rentals. El Monte RV also sells used motorhomes through eight different locations across the United States. For more information on purchasing a used motorhome see elmontervsales.com/.

My friend was planning to travel to Southern California for an RV vacation and called me. He knew I had provided itineraries to many travelers throughout the years, so he wanted to take advantage of my vast knowledge and find the best California state park to visit. I was happy to oblige. Knowing he loved wildlife, birding and ATV riding, I picked the best place where he could find plenty of all three – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Anza-Borrego

Anza-Borrego

This is California’s largest state park, with 600,000 acres and hundreds of miles of dirt roads and beautiful wilderness areas. The wonders of the desert are all around, with the opportunity to see magnificent wildflower displays and amazing vistas. I could think of no other park where he would find such ideal weather for a winter RV trip, nor could I think of another place where the wildlife and birding opportunities were so unique.

The park itself extends through eastern San Diego County while reaching into both Riverside and Imperial Counties, and includes two towns, Borrego Springs and Shelter Valley. In Borrego Springs, my friend can find RV camping at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. His RV motorhome is 35 feet long, the maximum length allowed at this campground, so it will be perfect! He will be happy with the full hookups and close proximity to dump station, hiking and nature trails and many birds. The campground is a mile north of the park headquarters and easy to find.

I told him that he should get ready for the views as he approaches. The great bowl of the desert spreads out before him, mountains to every side. To the south are the Vallecito Mountains with the Santa Rosa Mountains to the north. He won’t be able to get into those wilderness areas as there are no roads, but he won’t need to with all there is to see right in the Anza-Borrego desert.

Fonts Point

Fonts Point

Wildlife is Plentiful in the Park

My buddy wants wildlife – wildlife he’ll get. In this diverse landscape he will have the opportunity to see mule deer, kit foxes, iguanas and perhaps a red diamond rattlesnake. Of course, other wildlife sightings will include coyotes, jackrabbits, ground squirrels and kangaroo rats. The one animal he probably won’t get a glimpse of is the elusive desert bighorn. This peninsular bighorn sheep keeps his distance and only a few people are patient enough to observe and count this endangered species to see how they are faring.

The Birds of Anza-Borrego

Besides greater roadrunners, quail, prairie falcons and golden eagles, there is the famous Swainson’s hawks. These birds migrate every spring to their North American breeding grounds and in the fall to their South American wintering grounds. I had to tell my friend that he must make a point of joining those who take part in the Borrego Valley Hawkwatch so he can see these magnificent birds. It is very lucky for him that he is arriving in mid-February, as the watches go on from 15 February to 15 April. If he is an early riser, he can watch them take off between 8 and 9 am or he can arrive at the Evening Hawkwatch Site on Borrego Valley Road an hour before sunset.

The Flora of Anza-Borrego Desert

We can’t neglect the flora! In late February or early March the wildflowers create such displays as to take your breath away. I told my friend he should stay a few weeks so he will be sure not to miss this elegant and colorful panorama of blooms. The brittlebush lends its yellow and the chuparosa adds its red to the rainbows of hues. The timing is hard to predict, based on rainfall and temperatures, but if he is patient he will find the washes of color hard to resist and certainly he will have thousands of photos to add to his collection.

In these landscapes with so many forms, plant life abounds. He will view sage, cactus shrub, Palo Verde trees and Smoke trees. In the east and to the north he will find pine forests, oaks and Manzanitas. It is such a wide variety with the mountains as background, it is sure to inspire.

Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area

To add to the excitement, the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area is right next door to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The off-road fun awaiting my friend is virtually endless here. My friend was enthusiastic upon hearing of the additional opportunities to get out on his ATV. He plans first to do the self-guided tour.

Yes, my friend is most certainly excited about coming to Anza-Borrego. Now to convince him to make room for me in his RV!

My Funky Hiking Boots Lead The Way

A guest post BY SHAWN BOLKER

Shawn Bolker is a member of California State Parks Foundation. He completed the Defend What’s Yours Challenge in 2012 to show his support for California state parks.

Henry Cowell © Shawn Bolker

Henry Cowell © Shawn Bolker

Ever since I was two years old, my family and I have had the tradition of spending time outdoors and of also volunteering to protect our natural surroundings.  The outdoors must be preserved for future generations.  It is important to have a natural place to ground people when they are  moving all around, to stay in touch with the earth and just to mellow down.

I really like to hike, backpack, and photograph waterfalls.  Now that I am a teenager, my dirty old hiking boots and I often head out to explore nature.  My hiking boots lead the way and my camera is in my hand to capture and reflect what is around me.

I also enjoy researching an area before I take off to explore.  My comfortable, warm and funky hiking boots remind me of where I have been and all that I would like to discover.