Moving California’s Parks Forward

California’s parks system is at a crossroads. For the last two years, we’ve served as co-chairs of the Parks Forward Commission — an effort established under statute by Governor Brown, and tasked with finding a way to modernize and transform our treasured state parks system. With this transformation under way, tremendous opportunities for our state’s parks lie ahead, and it’s imperative that our parks system has the support needed to keep moving forward.

Our commission was formed in the wake of the deterioration of the state parks system over many years, which finally drew public scrutiny in 2012. This past February, our commission released a roadmap — A New Vision For California State Parks — with concrete recommendations to create a sustainable state parks system that meets the needs of California’s changing population.

Our report called for transforming and modernizing the Department of Parks and Recreation from top to bottom to expand the level of access and services our parks can offer California’s residents and visitors, and to ensure their continued financial security. For months now, that transformation effort has been underway.

As co-chairs of this commission and as California residents who treasure the stunning beauty of our state parks, we are deeply invested in ensuring the success of this transformation. Our role in that process does not end with a roadmap, and we’ve been continuing to engage, monitor progress, and do our best to support the transformation efforts under way.

Our commission reconvened in October, where we heard updates from the department and received feedback from the public on the reform effort. Last month, nearly a year into the transformation effort, we issued a public report that assesses the department’s progress towards implementing our recommendations.

Unsurprisingly, given the scale of the park system’s challenges, it has taken time for the transformation to get moving, but our progress report finds that the department and its new and able Director, Lisa Mangat, can rightfully point to clear progress they have made. The department is reforming hiring practices to give it access to talented leaders with diverse expertise, and launching projects to expand and deepen community engagement. It is expanding its capacity for partnerships, and modernizing its operations with budgeting and accounting reforms underway.

At the same time, supporters of our state parks cannot afford to rest on that progress — we need to keep things moving forward. Positive transformation in a large government department doesn’t come easily, and the task ahead remains impressive. Much of the transformation effort’s success to date has come thanks to the generous support of many of our state’s leading philanthropies. But broadening the effort across the department will require leadership by the administration and legislature to ensure the department has the resources it needs to see reforms through. And that will mean — at least in part — eliminating barriers to transformation and securing the stable funding that our parks system needs going forward. These are key components of the Parks Forward Commission’s roadmap, and they remain significant challenges facing these efforts.

Clearly, the Parks Forward effort doesn’t end with a roadmap or a report from a commission. Goals are good, but implementation is what really matters. Those of us who have served on the Parks Forward Commission have made a commitment that we intend to see through — promoting and protecting the investment that the people of California are making in this effort, and ensuring that its tremendous promise comes fully to fruition. We invite all Californians to join us in helping the state to implement these critical reforms on behalf of our treasured state park resources.