About the Parks Forward Initiative

California State Parks represent the pride of our state. 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 the historical writings on our cave walls, our parks offer learning, relaxation, recreation, and adventure to roughly 70 million visitors every year. Today, our 280 state parks cover 1.6 million acres, return an estimated $6.5 billion to the California economy, and support 56,000 California jobs. This system is the proud result of significant and sustained investment by not only the State and its citizens, but also philanthropic contributors and conservation organizations.

But even our parks have to adapt to a changing world. Today, under the weight of budget cuts, added acreage, and outmoded systems, we are struggling to meet the needs of our citizens.

Parks Forward California is an exciting 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. An independent panel of experts, citizens, advocates and thought-leaders have conducted a wholesale assessment of our parks system and recommended substantial improvements to address the financial, operational, cultural, and population challenges facing State Parks. The Parks Forward Commission was supported by significant charitable funding, public agency commitments, the nonprofit community, and other stakeholders. The Parks Forward Commission designed and adopted 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

What is the Parks Forward Commission?

The Initiative is led by an independent Parks Forward Commission. The Parks Forward Commission is made up of 12 independent members, all selected by the California Secretary of Natural Resources. The Secretary also selected two of the members to serve as Chair and Vice Chair. The members are diverse thought leaders from a wide array of business, finance, government, nonprofit, academic, science, and arts backgrounds.

The Parks Forward Commission works as an independent body. Since September 2013, the Parks Forward Commission has met six times to guide and review relevant research, analysis, and public input, assess the current system. In February 2015, the Commission adopted a plan designed to transform the current system into one that is financially sustainable, appropriately located, and better serves California’s growing and changing population. The Parks Forward Commission is providing input and assistance to State Parks to implement the final plan and will monitor the implementation progress.

What is the Parks Forward Initiative Memorandum of Understanding?

The Parks Forward Initiative is undertaken in accordance with the terms of a written Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The signatories to the MOU are the Natural Resources Agency, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and Resources Legacy Fund. Resources Legacy Fund is a nonprofit public-benefit (tax exempt) 501(c)(3) organization that is coordinating the charitable foundations contributions to the Initiative. The MOU is publicly available and can be found here.

The MOU sets forth the specific objectives, scope, and organizational structure of the Initiative, as well as the specific commitments of the Resources Agency, Department, and RLF.

Does the Parks Forward Initiative fulfill any legislative mandates?

Yes. In 2012, in response to ongoing and serious funding problems discovered within the Department, the California Legislature passed the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012 (AB 1589) and AB 1478. These pieces of legislation called for the formation of a multidisciplinary advisory council to conduct an independent assessment of the State Parks System and make recommendations to the California Legislature and Governor on future management, planning, and funding proposals to ensure the long-term sustainability of the State Parks System. The Parks Forward Commission is designed to fulfill these directives.

What issues has the Parks Forward Initiative addressed?

The goal of the Parks Forward Initiative is to develop a new vision and approach to manage, use, and sustain California’s state parks. The parties to the MOU understood that this would require the Parks Forward Commission to address a broad set of issues, including how the Department and the state parks system are organized, structured, managed, funded, and staffed, as well as the mission, number, location, and activities of individual state park units. Through the MOU, the Initiative is designed to address all of these difficult issues through new and different ways. 

Have the public had opportunities to share their ideas?

Yes. Input from Californians is a very important component of the process. Californians have had the opportunity to provide input through a variety of mechanisms during the life of the Initiative, including public workshops, the Parks Forward website, social media, e-mail comments, and letters. The Parks Forward Initiative considered all public input received as part of the plan development.

The Parks and Recreation Commission coordinated public outreach through a series of public workshops throughout the state. The workshops presented the public with an opportunity to be briefed on the status of parks and provided input on needs and recommendations to improve the system. The public can continue to share their thoughts by submitting comments through our website or sending us an e-mail.

Did the Department of Parks and Recreation staff provide input?

Yes. The expertise and input offered by Department of Parks and Recreation staff was considered invaluable to the success of the Initiative. The Park Forward Initiative conducted a survey of Department staff and also held several outreach sessions with staff throughout the state to seek their input and suggestions. Results of that outreach were incorporated into the assessment materials considered by the Parks Forward Commission.

How will the final plan adopted by the Parks Forward Commission be implemented?

The parties to the MOU are keen to ensure the final plan recommendations adopted by the Parks Forward Commission will be implemented and not just sit on a shelf. The MOU specifically addresses the need for timely implementation of recommendations. The Natural Resources Agency is committed to use best efforts to advance implementation of appropriate legislative, policy, governance, and business plan recommendations included in the final plan. The Agency is committed to seeking new sources of state and federal funding for implementation. In addition, the Department of Parks and Recreation is committed to providing additional staff as necessary to support coordination of implementation. The Parks Forward Commission will monitor progress and suggest appropriate plan recommendations.

How is the Parks Forward Initiative being funded?

The Parks Forward Initiative is supported by significant charitable funding, as well as public agency commitments detailed in the MOU. Philanthropic funding allowed the Initiative to make use of significant outside expertise, talent, and resources to enable a thorough assessment of the current system, as well as the development of a focused, innovative vision for the system’s future. The charitable organizations supporting the Initiative are dedicated to improving California and its environment. They have joined together to support this Initiative seeking a rigorous analysis and inclusive process to ensure a thriving State Park System and an enduring legacy for all Californians, and not to advance any pre-ordained ideas or outcomes. While charitable funding supported much of the costs of the Initiative, decision-making will be done by the state and the public will had access to the process.