Old and new memories forged at Mitchell Caverns

by Rachel Norton, Executive Director

One of the best parts of my job is spending time in parks, and I’ve had a great time in the last six months visiting at least a half-dozen state parks for the first time. However, one of the most meaningful and fun visits I’ve taken was to a place I’d actually visited as a teen 35 years ago.

Mojave Desert 1984

With my friends and classmates in the Mojave Desert in 1984

Mitchell Caverns, the only limestone caverns in the state park system, reopened to the public on November 3. Named after Jack and Ida Mitchell, a couple who operated a resort at the site from 1934- 1954, the caves offer spectacular limestone formations like stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, lily pads, draperies, curtains and cave coral.  Recently, the Department of Parks and Recreation hosted a private reopening ceremony for park supporters and members of the Mitchell Family, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. Representatives of the indigenous Chemehuevi people were also on hand to bless the Caverns, a place they regard as the sacred eyes of the mountains (you can see why as you approach the Caverns from the trail).

Mitchell Caverns 053 - web

The openings to Mitchell Caverns at Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, October 2017

Providence Mountains State Recreation area, the home of Mitchell Caverns, is in the eastern Mojave Desert, one of the more remote places in the state park system (let alone the country). The easiest way to get there from my home in San Francisco is to fly to Las Vegas and then drive three hours southwest to the park. There are campgrounds in the park, but the closest indoor place to stay is in Needles, an hour away. Once you leave Interstate 40, it’s not uncommon to have the entire two-lane road to yourself for long stretches.

When I was in high school, I was fortunate enough to have a biology teacher who had studied herpetology (reptiles) and was passionate about desert wildlife and ecology. Each year she took a group of students to the Mojave for a week on spring break, and I was lucky enough to go three years in a row (I loved the trips so much she let me tag along even when I was no longer her student). It was an incredible learning experience that introduced me to the beauty and vibrancy of a place that is often misunderstood as being devoid of both qualities. And as I walked into Mitchell Caverns on my visit several weeks ago, I realized I’d been there before!

Sure enough, when I looked back at my high school photo album (from the days when we used actual film and waited days to get our vacation photos developed and printed!) there was an identical shot of the Caverns from one I’d taken days before. Though interactions with the carbon dioxide from our breath and oils from our fingertips degrade the caverns over time, they are in remarkably good shape – I’m proud that the California State Parks Foundation was able to provide $10,000 from our grants program to help restore the caverns and reopen this remarkable place to the public.

If you visit, you must have a reservation – you cannot enter the caverns without a guide. Essential information about planning your visit is available on the state parks web site.


State Budget Paves Way for Solar Energy at Malakoff Diggins

After a four-year effort, CSPF and state park supporters throughout California are celebrating that the current state budget includes the necessary funding to install a cost-effective, clean solar energy system at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.

malakoff diggins craig vanzante

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park (c) Craig VanZante

This project is critical to the future of Malakoff Diggins SHP because this remote state park does not have access to conventional electricity, and currently relies on an expensive diesel generator to power the lighting and security systems that protect an estimated 100,000 historical artifacts.  The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has stated that it spends $70,000 annually to run the generator alone. PG&E has estimated the cost to bring conventional electricity to the park at over $2 million.

By bringing solar to Malakoff Diggins, the park will not only rely on a cleaner energy source, but will significantly reduce its operating costs and allow money currently spent on running the generator to be used for other purposes.

In 2008, Malakoff Diggins was one of 48 state parks identified for closure in the first of many park closure proposals due to state budget cuts. Some state park administrators felt Malakoff Diggins didn’t produce enough revenue to offset its operating cost, a major portion of which was the cost of running the diesel generator.

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Grizzly Hill School students march to protest closure of Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

Between 2008 and 2013, CSPF led statewide advocacy efforts to stop the closure of state parks – organizing rallies, petition drives, press conferences and visits with policymakers. In April of 2008, CSPF organized a march for state park supporters from Sutter’s Fort SHP to the State Capitol. Students from Grizzly Hill School joined the march, helping raise awareness of the importance of Malakoff Diggins to their community.

In 2012, CSPF provided $25,000 in critical funding to the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) to help the organization enter into a donor agreement with the State of California in order to keep the park open.

“This generous stop-gap funding from the California State Parks Foundation gives us the breathing room to work with local State Parks staff to develop a long-term solution to save the historic Malakoff Diggins,” said Caleb Dardick, Executive Director of the South Yuba River Citizens League, in 2012, after his organization received a CSPF Park Partnership Grant to help keep Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park open. “With this welcome reprieve, we will focus on long-term solutions such as getting a comprehensive solar power system installed at the park, which could save $60,000 to $80,000 per year in diesel fuel costs for generators and benefit the environment as well.”

Although the doors of the state park stayed open, efforts to bring solar to Malakoff Diggins kept going. In 2013, CSPF was pleased to award another $4,000 to SYRCL for the evaluation of solar power options at the park.

After thorough analysis and evaluation, the cost to bring solar power to Malakoff Diggins was estimated at $700,000, including preliminary plans, working drawings, and construction. Earlier this summer the funding proposal was adopted by the Legislature and signed by Governor Brown. Solar energy is coming to Malakoff!

Learn More and Plan Your Visit

Malakoff Diggins SHP is located in the historic town of North Bloomfield, 26 miles northeast of Nevada City, and encompasses 3,200 acres in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills region.

The park was created in 1965 by concerned citizens to preserve the largest hydraulic gold mining operation in the United States, an operation that devastated the area from the mid-1800s on. Visitors to Malakoff Diggins can view the hydraulic mining pit, which showcases the appalling scale of environmental impacts caused by hydraulic mining throughout northern California. Huge cliffs have been carved into the mountains by the gold mining technique of washing away entire mountains to find the precious metal. The destruction resulted in the first environmental protection law handed down by the federal court in 1884 to control further mining efforts.

Malakoff Diggins SHP offers over 20 miles of recreational trails. Swimming and fishing are also available, and a popular Kids Fishing Derby is held each May. Miner’s Cabins and Campgrounds are very popular.

This park is a very popular destination for students learning about California Gold Rush history and offers teachers an overnight Environmental Living Program where students learn period crafts and experience living in the Gold Rush era.

Learn more at DPR’s Malakoff Diggins web page and Friends of North Bloomfield and Malakoff Diggins.

State Park Closure Update

Año Nuevo State Park (c) Charles Tu

The outlook for California state parks took a positive turn last week after some budget action in Sacramento.  On Wednesday evening, Gov. Brown signed the FY 2012-13 Budget with a little added funding for state parks.  The budget does not “save” state parks. However, the budget does preserve some of the additional funding for state parks that the Legislature proposed in the final budget.

The breakdown:

(1)    The governor approved redirecting $13 million from existing unspent Prop 84 funds to a new State Park Enterprise Fund that can be only used for capital projects intended to generate new revenue for state parks, or to help them improve fee collection.  Note: this is not new money; it was already in DPR’s budget.

(2)    The governor approved $3 million from the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Fund and $7 million from the Motor Vehicle Fuel Account that can be used for state park operations.

(3)    The governor did veto some pieces of the Sustainable Parks Proposal, including $7 million of the originally proposed $10 million fund transfer from the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Fund to State Parks, and the transfer of $10 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to State Parks.

We are pleased to see the funding for the State Park Enterprise Fund included in this budget, and we support efforts to identify new opportunities for DPR to generate revenues and more efficiently collect user fees. However, this funding is another temporary solution. State parks continue to face a budget crisis resulting in service reductions and unprecedented closures. In other words, we are not out of the woods yet.

Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park (c) Mike Shoys

Closing Parks is Bad for Business

It’s Memorial Day weekend, but with park closures looming, we aren’t looking forward to the unofficial start of summer as much as usual. Neither is a group of businesses that has formed a coalition to oppose the closure of state parks. These folks know that park closures will negatively impact California’s economy (not to mention put a damper on future Memorial Days).

That’s why the coalition representing over 10,000 businesses throughout California urged the governor in a letter today to continue funding the parks for the good of the state’s economic well being. Read the letter here.

Organizations that oppose the closure of state parks include:

  •     California Association of Bed and Breakfast Inns
  •     California Hotel & Lodging Association
  •     California Ski Industry Association
  •     California Travel Association
  •     San Francisco Travel Association
  •     Southwest California Legislative Council
  •     El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce
  •     Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce
  •     Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority
  •     Murrieta Chamber of Commerce
  •     Regional Black Chamber of Commerce of San Fernando Valley (RBCC)
  •     Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce & Convention-Visitor’s Bureau
  •     Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce
  •     Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce
  •     Wildomar Chamber of Commerce
  •     Palm Springs Desert Resort Communities Convention and Visitors Authority
  •     San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau
  •     Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council

“Closing Parks is Bad for Business” sign spotted at Cafe Aquatica in Jenner

Why are they supporting state parks? Because parks generate more than $6 billion in economic benefit to the state as a whole. More than 65 million visits are made to state parks annually and average park visitors spend $42 per day on items related to their park visit. This spending supports an estimated 56,000 jobs across the state; jobs that translate into a total labor income of $2.3 billion each year, which is recirculated in local economies. 48 of California’s 58 counties are home to state parks and depend on revenues generated by park support and visitation.

“Closing Parks is Bad for Business” sign spotted at Benzinger Winery in Sonoma

Thank you to these businesses for recognizing the importance of state parks to California and for stepping up on their behalf.  If you own a business and would like to get involved with the coalition, please visit our Save Our State Parks website.

The Closing Parks is Bad for Business Campaign is a targeted effort of the Save Our State Parks Campaign, a grassroots campaign managed by CSPF in partnership with organizations, businesses, local governments, and individuals around the state, that aims to highlight the impacts of park closures on businesses throughout California. 

California’s State Parks: Recreation for Everyone

California’s richly diverse state parks give us all the chance to step back from our frenzied modern lives to refresh and restore ourselves in some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Henry Coe State Park is one such park that offers a spectacular recreational playground for people of all ages. With its vast and rugged landscape stretching across 90,000 acres, it is the second-largest state park in CA. A park so close to large metropolitan areas, one can escape to Henry Coe for horseback riding, mountain biking, exploring trails, hiking, connecting with nature and more.

Henry Coe is one of 70 California state parks on the park closure list. Though it will be kept open for now with a temporary operating agreement, it and 69 other parks are threatened to be lost to Californians for good.

To learn more about how you can help save California state parks like Henry Coe, visit calparks.org/defend.

This video is part of The Magnificent 70 project. See more at mag70.calparks.org.

Produced by Doug McConnell and Convergence Media. Music by Jenny Lloyd.

Current Status of Park Closures

Over the last few weeks the parks community has been successful in giving some parks on the closure list temporary reprieve. As the LA Times reported yesterday, there are a few parks on the closure list that have found reprieve from one source or another, be it private donors, foundations or nonprofits. Read the full story here.

By our own accounts, the following are parks that we at CSPF understand have received temporary reprieves from the July 1 closure.

  1. Castle Rock State Park: The Sempervirens Fund will donate funds to keep this park open for one year.
  2. Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area: This park is currently being operated by the City of Colusa.
  3. Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park: The National Park Service is currently operating portions of the state park under a yearly agreement.
  4. Henry Coe State Park: This park is being kept open for three years under a donor agreement facilitated by the Coe Park Preservation Fund.
  5. Jug Handle State Natural Reserve: CSPF and Olmsted Park Fund recently announced a donor agreement which will keep the park open for one year.
  6. Los Encinos State Historic Park: A private donor will help keep this park open for one year.
  7. McGrath State Beach: Funding was secured to fix the sewage line in the park. Once the repairs are completed, this park should come off of the closure list altogether.
  8. Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve: The Bodie Foundation has signed a concession contract which will allow it to collect fees at the park, which will be used to keep the park open.
  9. Petaluma Adobe State Park: The Sonoma/Petaluma State Historic Parks Association has entered into a donor agreement to keep the park open through June 2013.
  10. Plumas-Eureka: Plumas-Eureka State Park Association has entered into a donor agreement to help cover operational costs and keep this park open for the next two years.
  11. Samuel P Taylor: The National Park Service is using a new $2.00 fee at Muir Woods to cover the basic operation of both this park and Tomales Bay State Park until June 30, 2013.
  12. Santa Susana SHP: CSPF has signed a donor agreement that will give this park a reprieve from closure for one year.
  13. South Yuba River State Park: A Revenue Generation Parking Plan has been proposed and agreed to by DPR that is expected to provide revenue critical to keeping the park open.
  14. Tomales Bay: The National Park Service is using a new $2.00 fee at Muir Woods to cover the basic operation of both this park and Samuel P Taylor State Park until June 30, 2013

Excitingly, CSPF was able to help out with a couple of the reprieves.  In case you missed it:

  • Jug Handle State Nature Reserve — On Friday, March 16, we announced in conjunction with the Olmsted Park Fund (OPF) an agreement with the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to give Jug Handle State Natural Reserve a reprieve from closure for one year. Together we will provide a combined $19,000 to the state to allow the park to be kept open with minimal services, but accessible to the public.  Read more.
  • Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park — On Thursday, March 22, we made a donation to the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to give Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park a reprieve from closure for one year. We will provide $21,000 to the state to allow the park to be kept open to the public, albeit with minimal staff and services. Read more.

As you can see, with a few exceptions, these are all temporary reprieves. While it is important for us all to celebrate these reprieves, we must not lose sight of the fact that California’s 279 state parks need long-term funding solutions to ensure that they stay open and protected- and permanently saved from closure.

Is your local park in discussions to find a reprieve? Let us know in the comments.

Watch it First: California’s State Historic Parks – Doorways to the Past

We are pleased to introduce a brand new video from our Magnificent 70 series today! This gorgeous video (produced by Doug McConnell and his team at ConvergenceMedia Productions) shows how one can tell the entire history of California through its 47 state historic parks.

Watch the beautiful video about California’s historic parks:

If you haven’t had the opportunity to look at The Magnificent 70 website yet, now is the time!

The Magnificent 70 is a site we created this summer as a celebration of 70 California state parks slated to close July 2012, and to serve as a reminder of what will be lost if they are shuttered. It is like a living photo book with gorgeous photos and original stories written by author Kerry Tremain about each of the 70 parks on the closure list.

Embracing the Landscape

We always like to share stories on CalPark Voices of creative people who are using their craft to raise awareness for state parks. One Berkeley-based artist, Jean Sanchirico, has done just that. She taking action by is using her landscape drawings for a good cause. For every landscape drawing sold, Jean is donating 10% of the proceeds directly to CSPF in an effort to show her support for keeping our beautiful parks open and accessible. See her work here (she’s really good!).

“In this small way I to hope raise awareness, so that others can use their skills to support our parks,” said Jean.

Jean’s work, “Embracing the Landscape,” is currently on exhibit at Garage Gallery in Berkeley. Be sure to drop by to see her stuff. If you go this Sunday you may even have a chance to meet her!

The Garage Gallery hosts an exhibit of recent work by Jean Sanchirico
“Embracing the Landscape”
Exhibition dates: Three weekends, February 4-19
Gallery Hours:  Saturday & Sunday afternoons, 1 to 4pm
The artist will be present in the gallery Sunday afternoons, February 5 & 12.

Garage Gallery is located at 3110 Wheeler Street, one block East of Shattuck Avenue and three blocks South of Ashby Avenue, in Berkeley.

Since 2004 Jean has been drawing her impressions using chalk pastel, capturing, the feeling and moods that landscapes evoke with simple and broad strokes. Since the Department of Parks and Recreation released their proposed list of park closures due to a $22 million general fund budget cut, Jean has been giving back to the land with these donations.

Kudos to Jean and all the artists out there who are passionate about parks!

Upcoming Workshops to Help Find Park Partners

California State Parks announced yesterday a series of upcoming workshops that will help find partners for state parks on the closure list. There will be five workshops across the state designed to present a “How To” explanation and pathway for all parties interested in forming partnerships for operating a state park.

Say, is that a potential park partner in the distance?

This is great news for nonprofit groups who have the desire to help state parks in their communities. If you remember back in October Gov. Brown signed AB 42 into law so State Parks could legally have the option to enter into operating agreements with nonprofit groups that want to help. Now these workshops will add the wherewithal, too, so that we can really start to see some results in keeping parks open.

In addition to the workshops, State Parks also created a Partnership Workbook for Operating Agreements which will be available at the workshops and online soon.  The workbooks will have information like eligibility, partnership options, the application process, proposal checklists, financial plan requirements, and more.

Here are the upcoming workshops:

  • February 22 – Redding: 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, 840 Sundial Bridge Drive, Museum Classroom.
  • February 23 – Fort Bragg: 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the CV Starr Community Center, 300 South Lincoln Street, Conference Room 3.
  • February 24 – Santa Rosa: 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Julliard Park, Church of One Tree Community Center, 492 Sonoma Avenue.
  • February 28 – West Sacramento: 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the City of West Sacramento, Galleria at City Hall, 1110 West Capitol Avenue, Rms 157-160, West Sacramento.
  • March 1 – Los Angeles: 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the City of San Fernando Aquatic Center, Upstairs Multi-Purpose Room, 208 Park Avenue, San Fernando.

Read California State Parks’ full statement here.

Will you or your group be attending a workshop?

Defend What’s Yours—Your State Parks

Today we are announcing the launch of a new public awareness campaign called Defend What’s Yours. This is the message we are bringing to the public (in more or less words):

‘California state parks belong to you, but not for long. Six months from now 25 percent of your parks will be closed unless you step up to defend them.’

It’s a strong message, but we believe public awareness is necessary in this moment to empower citizen action and mobilize grassroots support to save the nation’s biggest and best state park system.

As part of the big launch today, we unveiled a new series of television public service announcements (PSAs) that will air statewide starting this week. Take a look at one here:

See the other PSAs on our YouTube channel.

It’s time to say enough is enough. Enjoy the videos, and please join us in this fight to defend state parks. Do you want to be a defender?