NATIONAL PARKS:

NPS threatens takeover of 6 Calif. parks

The National Park Service is warning that it might take over six California state parks if they are closed under a proposal from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for addressing severe state budget shortfalls.

The parks, which formerly were federal properties, could revert to the U.S. government if the state does not keep them open, NPS Pacific West Regional Director Jon Jarvis warned the Republican governor. California could also lose millions of dollars in federal grants if it closes other state parks, Jarvis wrote in a June 8 letter.

"The public has no less need for recreational opportunities and access to open space in times of economic hardship," Jarvis wrote. "If anything, the need for such recreational opportunities is greater now."

Any acres donated to a state under the Federal Lands to Parks Program -- including the six in California -- must be open for public park and recreation use in perpetuity as a condition of the deed, Jarvis wrote. The program, established in 1949, conveyed surplus federal land for state parks. Any land found to be unavailable for such use may revert to federal ownership "for re-disposal," he added.

The sites include Angel Island, a former military fort and immigration facility in San Francisco Bay; a parking lot at the summit of Mount Diablo east of San Francisco, where the Navy once operated a microwave relay station; a lighthouse and land at Point Sur State Historic Park in coastal Big Sur; and the three beaches of Fort Ord Dunes near Monterey, Point Mugu State Park near Malibu and Border Field along the Mexican border.

State parks that are closed also may no longer qualify for funding from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. California has received about $286 million from the fund since 1965, affecting 67 of the state parks on the potential closure list, Jarvis wrote. Six state parks have active LWCF funded projects that would need to be halted, he added.

To receive money from the fund, a state provides assurances about its ability to operate and maintain the facilities and that it won't convert any fund-assisted areas to uses other than public outdoor recreation without the approval of the Interior secretary, Jarvis said.

The Park Service is willing, he added, to work closely with Schwarzenegger to come up with solutions to reduce costs at the sites short of closing them.

In Sacramento, Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Lisa Page said the administration understands the consequences of closing the parks but sees "no good options" for solving the deficit. The governor "is open to any ideas that communities might have to partner with the state to keep their area parks open," she added.

As for the threatened federal takeover, Page said the administration is looking for a compromise. "State Parks Director Ruth Coleman is in the process of talking with the National Park Service and Jon Jarvis about these very issues," Page wrote in an e-mail. "They are discussing a variety of outcomes and solutions depending on what final budget package is passed by the legislature and signed by the governor."

Schwarzenegger insists the park closings are necessary to address a deficit that he now estimates at $26.3 billion. His plan to close 220 California parks would save $70 million in the next fiscal year and $143 million in the following fiscal year. It was released as part of a sweeping $3 billion package of spending cuts.

Parks on the list include Humboldt County's Redwoods State Park, home to the world's tallest tree, and a number of popular camping and hiking destinations. Also targeted is the State Capitol Museum in Sacramento. The plan calls for laying off thousands of rangers, biologists and maintenance workers who staff the parks, sparing only those locations (many of them beaches) that receive local government support (Greenwire, June 1).

Schwarzenegger declared a budget emergency yesterday and called an emergency session of the Legislature. State lawmakers failed to meet the deadline yesterday to strike a compromise on the budget in order to prevent the state from issuing IOUs.

Starting today, several groups will be getting IOUs from the state government rather than checks: those due tax refunds, vendors that do business with the state, and owners of unclaimed property. For now, education, Medi-Cal and state workers will continue to receive checks.

Jon Jarvis, who continues to work with California on the parks issue, has been rumored to be the next director of the National Park Service.

Click here to read Jarvis' letter.

Reporter Phil Taylor contributed. Sullivan reported from San Francisco.

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