California State Parks have represented the pride of our State throughout modern history. They offer residents and visitors a front-row seat to our culture, natural splendor and history. From the serenity of our State beaches to the majesty of our redwoods and history in the writings on our cave walls, our State parks offer learning, relaxation, recreation, and adventure. Today, 280 state parks covering 1.6 million acres draw some 70 million visitors annually, returning an estimated $6.5 billion to the California economy and supporting 56,000 California jobs. This system has been the proud result of significant and sustained investment by not only the State and its citizens, but also philanthropic contributors and conservation organizations whose combined efforts built the system we know today.
But even our parks have to adapt to a world that is changing in the blink of an eye. Today, under the weight of budget cuts, added acreage and outmoded systems, we are struggling to meet the needs of our citizens. State general fund support for our parks has dropped by 37 percent in the past five years. Parks Forward California is an exciting new initiative designed to bring out the very best in our parks, improve efficiency, increase accessibility and meet the needs of our growing and changing population. In the next 18 months, an independent panel of experts, citizens, advocates and thought-leaders will conduct a wholesale assessment of our parks system and recommend substantial improvements. This independent process will be designed to address the financial, operational, cultural, and population challenges facing State Parks to ensure the system’s long-term viability, functionality, and relevance. The Parks Forward Commission will be supported by significant charitable funding, public agency commitments, the nonprofit community and other stakeholders. The Parks Forward Commission will design and adopt a long-term plan for a financially sustainable and functionally relevant State Parks System that meets the needs of a changing population and provides an innovative park system model for the rest of the nation.