Unsung Heroes in California State Parks


by Richard J. Dolesh | Posted on July 3, 2012

For the past 18 months, the media has counted down the days to the planned closure of up to 70 of California’s state parks on July 1, 2012.  Well, Doomsday has arrived, but in a somewhat surprising turn of events, virtually all of the parks slated to close remain open, although some are hanging on by a thread, and a handful may not remain open for more than a few days or weeks.



The good news for many of the parks on the hit-list is that a large proportion of them may escape being shut down, at least temporarily, because of an outpouring of public support and volunteer contributions. Local businesses, philanthropists, foundations, and regular citizens who love their state parks have stepped up in extraordinary ways, donating time and money to keep parks open, hoping for a revival.


But almost unnoticed in stories about the unfolding crisis is that the remaining employees of the California Department of Parks and Recreation reported to work on July 1, as usual, and continued to do what they have done every day for almost 100 years—provide outstanding service to the public, protecting natural and cultural treasures, rescuing stranded visitors, interpreting nature to kids, and being stewards of one of the finest park systems in the country.


Faced with a double-whammy budget crisis—structural deficits aggravated by the recession—the state services in California are being cut back across the board, but the state parks are taking it on the chin.  Steep budget cuts have not only resulted in plans to close parks, but have also led to severe cuts in supplies, materials, maintenance, and operations.  And the noose continues to be tightened mercilessly.  Every state park worker has taken a pay cut in the past year, and more cuts in pay and benefits are anticipated.  “Just about everyone will be taking pay cuts, one way or the other,” said a senior staffer. Fortunately, no full-time career employees have been terminated yet, but layoff notices in anticipation of further cuts may be next on the horizon.  “Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.”


Yet in the face of this relentlessly bad news, the employees of the state park system--from the park maintenance workers, to the administrative staff, to the trades staff, to the park rangers, to the leadership--have shown a resilience and can-do attitude of public service that is extraordinary.


I asked a state parks spokesperson recently, Who is stepping up?  “Well, just about everybody,” she said.  And many are going above and beyond the call of duty, working additional uncompensated hours.  Examples range from park managers attending evening and weekend meetings with civic and business groups, archeologists and natural resources specialists working to save threatened park resources, park rangers  patrolling larger and larger territories, and professional staff dealing with volunteers in new roles--as stewards of resources and managers of parks, all in situations that they have never dealt with before.  Every member of the California state parks staff in one way or the other is working to find solutions to the unfolding crisis and trying to keep the public safe and the parks well-maintained  in the face of ever-diminishing resources and an uncertain future. 


And what is the attitude of parks’ workers despite the bad news?  A staffer told me a story recently of a woman who had stayed in a rustic camping cabin in Northern California who had lost her wallet.  She had collected her trash, checked out of the cabin at the end of the weekend, and was on her way home when she realized that she didn’t have her wallet and thought she had thrown it out with the trash.  After fielding her frantic call, the staff took in on themselves to start opening a large pile of trash bags collected over the weekend, sorting through each one, bag by bag.  Amazingly, they found her wallet.  They contacted her, and made arrangements for its return.  This might be a one-off, feel-good kind of story, but it exemplifies the willingness of park staff—whatever the level—to go above and beyond the call of duty.


So, here is to the unsung heroes of the California State Park system.  Despite the unrelenting bad news, they continue to serve the public and care for California’s most outstanding natural and cultural resources—a true public trust.  No matter what the current budget situation and what the future brings, their contributions and service are recognized and appreciated—in California and across the nation.

Written by: Richard J. Dolesh, NRPA Vice President for Conservation and Parks

Hear! Hear! Thank you, Rich for a showcasing what has always been the most important asset in our state park systems - our staff. Thank you to all parks staff across the nation for your dedication to mission and resiliency when things get tough. I'm proud to be a part of this great team of professionals. Becky Kelley Director, Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites by Becky Kelley on 07/10/2012

That's why I joined the field of Parks and Recreation; because of the people. If more of the world's population took the same approach to life as park people, we'd all be better off! by Ryan on 07/10/2012

Amen......I strongly believe this is the prevailing work ethic of all state park workers in every state that has experienced the past decade of operational budget declines while public visitation and resource use increases. The true essence of why we continue lies in the heart and not the mind, we genuinely care about our parks and the people we serve. Hopefully those of us with graying hair and years of memorable park service experiences have mentored the next generation of park professionals to captain the ship through both calm and rough water. by OKRegMgr on 07/10/2012

Thank you for reminding me why I do what I do. We also have had cuts in our budget, athough nothing like California's. However, my co-workers are still delivering outstanding service to our constituents. I hope more stories come out of how employees of local, state and federal government continue to maintain services despite our economic situation. by Daveatmav on 07/10/2012

What a great life I have. I work for CA Parks and Recreation!!! For me it’s not about the paycheck or about how I can live with less-and-less as my paycheck buys less and less year after year. It is about the stewardship of these magnificent lands for the benefit of all. It is about the wonderful smiles of the millions of visitors that come to enjoy "their" parks; it is about maintaining the beautiful gift and miracle that God has entrusted upon ourselves to maintain these beautiful parks in perpetuity for the benefit of nature and our communities. I will continue to go to work day after day knowing that my life has meaning in helping and serving us all. Thank you Richard for acknowledging CA State Parks' employees. by Andy V. on 07/10/2012

Bravo, Mr. Dolesh! Thanks for recognizing and reporting the Herculean efforts of all of California State Parks' "family" members. Despite increasing budget cuts and years of uncertainty, each person--especially those working out in the field--takes many extra steps for the comfort, safety and well-being of park visitors. When some of those visitors advise others on Yelp how to avoid paying their day-use fee and then complain about trash on a beach, do they expect the trash to miraculously disappear? Why did they leave it in the first place? Parks staff have impressed me since I was a little camper over a half-century ago. Thanks to our state parks and our fabulous employees, volunteers, and especially seasonals. by Cate on 07/10/2012

What a great story. It is unfortunate parks are closing and staff being laid off across the country in the parks and recreation field. The parks and the services belong to the people and we serve them with great pride. We assist in providing a better quality of life for all who utilize their parks as well as providing a better environment through conservation easements, securing land, green space, open space, and protecting trees and flora and fauna. by Londa Strong on 07/10/2012

Thank you for noting that CA State Parks are among the finest of the finest. We have had a motto of do more with less, and over the years it's become, "do the most with the least". I'm so proud of my fellow Parks employees. I know that the other states and their Parks employees are facing the same challenges and we encourage one another to stay at it. Keep up the work we are all proud to do! by Maria on 07/10/2012

Thank you for recognizing the employees for once. It doesn't make news when you talk about good people doing the right thing, but it should. I am not sure what will happen next for the CSP. by Kelly on 07/10/2012

Thank you, Mr. Dolesh. This is a great department to work for - so many employees really love the State Parks. My co-workers and I here at DPR work hard to monitor our State (and local) Parks and provide ongoing recreational opportunities for Californians. It's really nice to be appreciated instead of bad-mouthed! Thank you again. by M.S. on 07/10/2012

I am a California Park employee who has also worked tor the National Park Service. The employees deserve a huge Thank You from all, due to not just the great service they keep giving year after year, but because this is the 3rd year of pay cuts to CA Parks employees. I remember when I used to get cost of living increases & merit increases. Now it is, " Be thankful you have a job & don't complain." So that's what we hear & that's what we do, year after year. We are thankful, & we do work hard to keep the public happy & safe, & we do our best to keep our chins up with a smile on our face, even though this is year 3 for pay cuts & maybe job loss too, but you gotta love these parks because where would we all go if they were all gone? Thank God for His Grace & beauty! by Bob Booth on 07/10/2012

Thanks for the kind words. After being frequently trashed by the public for newly implemented fee programs to keep parks open, it's nice to have someone look at things from the other shoe. Parks people care greatly about what they do and who they do it for, even if it isn't always.appreciated. Our local partners and many individuals have stepped up to help ease the burden of keeping parks open, and for them I'm grateful. by Don S. on 07/10/2012

thanks to ALL the staff and ALL the volunteers at ALL the state parks !! by richard parklover on 07/10/2012

As far back as I can remember in working for CA Department of Parks and Rec. We have always said "We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we can now anything with nothing." Thank you for your kind words. And one more thing, I have grown to understand something a friend of mine said at his retirement party years ago. "We do not work for The parks to get rich, we do it for the our love for the parks". Thank you again by gerald a on 07/10/2012

You guys give all park and recreation professionals a great name and provide a stark reminder of why we do what we do. Stay smiling and keep up the outstanding work! by Austin Chas. on 07/11/2012

I have to mention State Park Interpretive staff here, they were already at the bottom of the hierarchy and face incredible challenges to keep delivering educational programs, especially to school groups who also have less and less to spend. Thank you to those of you who are helping educate the next generation. As a 20 year plus volunteer at Fort Ross state park I'm very aware of the pressure these folks are working under. by Amy Lemmer on 07/13/2012

Thank you so much for recognizing the the staff (and that includes volunteers) of California State Parks. I work for Ca State Parks also, and I see my colleagues struggling to keep up with the various tasks needed just to keep their parks up and running with reduced budgets and staffing. On top of that they still pour energy and time and genuine concern into efforts to ensure for the public's education and enjoyment of the parks' resources. It is to my colleagues great credit that during this current financial crisis the fears expressed are rarely "What will happen to my job?" (even though there is legitimate reason for worry) but " What will happen to the parks?" Most are concerned about the deterioration of the natural and cultural resource we hold in trust, and the deterioration of the public's experience. Thank you, fellow CADPR staffers for your dedication to wonderful service, and thank you again, Richard for expressing your appreciation. by Ann M. on 07/14/2012

As a CA State Park Ranger - Thank you. We don't hear many kinds words at any level, but it is nice to know that some of the public sees the hard work put out by us all. by Tom P on 07/14/2012


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