California State Parks Seek Younger, More Diverse Visitors

The future of California's state parks depends on attracting younger and ethnically diverse people from cities to experience the state's vast natural scenery, according to a commission tasked with reforming the state parks department.

Parks Forward, the commission formed following a 2012 scandal inside the California Department of Parks and Recreation, will present this recommendation and others on Friday in a report to state lawmakers.

The report also calls for forming a non-profit, called Parks California, to partner with other organizations and bring the department financial stability. It also calls for upgrading technology and ending an outdated management practices such as promoting only law enforcement rangers to leadership positions.

The agency has already announced the formation of a team of experienced park staff and outside consultants who will direct changes in park management and begin implementing some of the commission's initiatives.

The commission was created following a scandal three years ago that bruised the department's reputation when $54 million was found hidden in secret accounts while budget cuts were threatening to close 70 of the 279 state parks.

Christine Kehoe, Parks Forward's co-chair, said in a statement that the commission's goal is to make the state parks relevant in the future and meet the needs of California's changing population.

"It is not designed to dwell upon past problems, but to turn the page to a bright future through fundamental change'' Kehoe said.

California's 1.6 million acres of parkland include 339 miles of Pacific coastline, 15,000 campsites and 4,456 trails.

More people now live in cities, and the population is growing increasingly diverse, which the park system needs to address in terms of both visitors and employees, the report says. Other recommendations include incorporating social media into the park experience and building small cabins at some campgrounds to attract those who aren't equipped or inclined to do tent camping.

"Our parks should be more easily accessible and available to all communities,'' said state Rep. Marc Levine, a San Rafael Democrat, who chairs the Assembly committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife.

Acting Parks Director Lisa Mangat said this is an opportunity to strengthen the park's system. "There is a lot of momentum for positive and sustainable change,'' she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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