The Open Space Council Blog


Be Our Guest: The Next Story about CA State Parks (part 1)

July 9, 2013

Guest blogger Christine Sculati looks at how CA State Parks went from closing to thriving because of the donor agreements in today’s post…

You might recall the news about Henry W. Coe State Park near Morgan Hill in the South Bay.

Coe by

In December 2011, California State Parks and the Coe Park Preservation Fund announced a contract, the first-of-its-kind, to avert the closure of this 87,000-acre park. Park volunteers banded together here to negotiate the first-of-its-kind “donor agreement.”

Under the terms of their contract, the Coe Park Preservation Fund agreed to raise the funds to cover the park’s staff salaries while California State Parks guaranteed that revenue generated by fee-collection at Coe State Park stayed in the park. Following the Coe model, dozens of groups statewide rallied their communities to raise enough money to convince California State Parks to sign “donor agreements” that would grant relief ranging from one to three years for parks slated for closure.

In the Bay Area, Castle Rock State Park, Portola Redwoods State Park and Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park gained reprieves after nonprofit partners followed the Coe model, agreeing to raise funds to keep park gates open. Then, after these nonprofits and community donors stepped up, reports of financial mismanagement in the Department of Parks and Recreation hit the press.

Some relief came in September 2012 when Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1478 into law, giving nonprofits the opportunity to tap a $10 million matching funds program set up with the “hidden” funds discovered in July 2012. The nonprofit park rescuers were able to re-negotiate or amend their agreements with State Parks and tap the matching funds program to match private donations to park, dollar for dollar. I recently caught up with a few of them.

How are they doing today?

Henry W. Coe State Park and the Coe Park Preservation Fund

“We are quite pleased,” says Winslow Briggs of the Coe Park Preservation Fund about the nonprofit’s new December 2012 agreement with State Parks. Winslow and his wife Ann Briggs are longtime volunteers who serve on the board of the Coe Park Preservation Fund. Under the new agreement, the Coe Park Preservation Fund donated $279,000 to be matched by the state to provide all operations and maintenance of Coe State Park by State Parks’ staff through 2016. Though 87,000 acres is a big responsibility for five State Parks staff, the park’s 25 active and uniformed volunteers make a big difference.

Things are steady for now, but they are “watching Sacramento closely,” says Winslow. They feel confident in the new Parks Director, Major General Anthony Jackson, and feel optimistic.


Castle Rock State Park and the Sempervirens Fund

The Sempervirens Fund, California’s oldest land trust, is leading efforts to keep Castle Rock State Park open, with the help of the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation. They hold an agreement to keep the park open through June 2016. To boot, the agreement also keeps the 1,340-acre San Lorenzo River Redwoods area open to the public, increasing the accessible area of Castle Rock State Park by 35% and extending the park’s trail system.

Castle Rock by

And they are not stopping there. Sempervirens Fund will now work on creating a new entrance to the park with automatic pay stations for parking, flush toilets, picnic sites and other amenities to attract visitors and generate a reliable stream of income through user fees. Sempervirens Fund has submitted the plans to Santa Cruz County for approval and hopes to break ground on the new entrance in 2014.


Portola Redwoods State Park and Save the Redwoods League, Peninsula Open Space Trust, and Portola-Castle Rock Foundation

Last year the executive directors for Peninsula Open Space Trust, Portola and Castle Rock Foundation and Save the Redwoods League all signed a donor agreement to keep Portola Redwoods State Park open. Recently amended, the agreement runs through June 2014. Each partner contributed $20,000, and under the AB 1478 Match Program, State Parks is spending $60,000 on park enhancement projects — from rebuilding infrastructure to a business plan project that will identify problems and how the park can become sustainable.

The three partners meet regularly and really like to work with each other, says Jessica Neff, Land Project and Stewardship Manager for Save the Redwoods League. They are also happy to keep State Parks in charge. “They know what they need,” says Jessica.

Portola Redwoods State Park from

What will happen to these new park partnerships in the future? Will California find a long-term, sustainable funding solution for the state parks? Join the conversation.

And come back tomorrow to read the story about the new State Park operators…



Christine Sculati is a Berkeley-based development consultant and writer for nonprofits in the Bay Area. The California state parks crisis has been on her mind since closures were announced in May of 2011. She then realized that the whole system had been under siege due to under-funding for many years. She is inspired by the tremendous amount of dedication by volunteers around the state to help the parks and wants to do her part by elevating their voices on her blog and by writing for She is committed to protecting parks and open spaces because of the benefits these places bring to society and the health of ecosystems. When she is not working, she likes to spend as much time as possible in the outdoors, experiencing nature, wilderness and adventure with her husband and friends.  She also volunteers for a Bay Area puma study by checking wildlife cameras in a remote Marin watershed.