Saving our state parks: Vote with your feet

Our state parks are under siege.
Starting Oct. 1, about 70 will close permanently. Cuts in state budget amount to $11 million this year, and another $11 million next year.

So I decided to visit one of the nearest state parks to the Valley, Chino Hills State Park. If more people would visit the parks and yes, pay the fees, there would be more money available for their upkeep. As it is, Chino Hills State Park will undergo a service reduction starting Oct. 1. It will only be open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Mondays. What a shame.
A new bill, AB 42, will allow the state to sign off on contracts to help upkeep and manage the parks with nonprofit organizations. That may provide some long-term help. But in the short term, it will take citizens to save their parks from non use, from closures and from reduced hours of operation.

“Many of these parks were protected because citizens stepped up, ” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation. “The only choice to save these places is for citizens to step up again.”
Below are some photos I shot during my tour of Chino Hills State Park on Wednesday
But first, my The Green Way column which ran and was posted on Sept. 25, 2011:

The best way to show support for your state parks is to visit them, says the Los Angeles Conservancy. A $22 million cut in the state parks budget means that 70 parks will be closed starting Oct. 1 through July 2012. One could say the Legislature didn’t show much support. One of those is Pio Pico State Park in Whittier along with other historical parks, hence the Conservancy’s interest.

But state park closures are our fault because we don’t support them. We’d rather complain about the smog or the traffic instead of enjoying nature. If we did visit them more often, the state would have a harder time closing them. In short, the parks would have a lobbying group. The hills and trees can’t speak for themselves.

When is the last time you visited a state park? And no, don’t count a state beach. Don’t know? Here’s another question: Where is the nearest state park?

That would be Chino Hills State Park. If you’ve never heard of it or never been there, you’re not alone. But you are missing out on a feast of nature located less than a half hour away.

There’s still time to change that, although time is literally running out. Starting Oct. 1, Chino Hills State Park will no longer be open seven days a week. State cutbacks require it to close on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays.

“You used to say, `I want to go to the park’ and be able to do it. Now, that won’t be true anymore and that is so sad,” said Ron Krueper, district superintendent
for the state parks’ Inland Empire District. Krueper and Claire Schlotterbeck, co-founder of Hills for Everyone with Dave Myers back in 1980, the group that created the park, gave me a tour Wednesday morning.

Established in 1984, it is one of the newest state parks and is located between the 57 Freeway and the 71 Freeway, north of the 91 Freeway. To reach the main entrance take the Soquel Canyon Parkway exit off the 71, follow signs to Elinvar Road and Bane Canyon Road. The western entrance is off the 57 – take Lambert Road exit in Brea and go east until you see the park’s brand new Discovery Center on the right just beyond Carbon Canyon Regional Park. From here, you can hike, mountain bike, bird watch or just sit amid the five different ecosystems: grasslands, riparian (creekside), chaparral, coastal sage scrub and oak/walnut woodlands.

From the Soquel Canyon Parkway entrance, you drive a dirt road for about 1 1/2 miles. That will bring you to the 20 campsites with full bathrooms, showers and an old barn which will soon be used for educational programs. They are first-come, first served and not listed on the state’s Reserve America website. The area includes a horse camp for equestrians. This portion of the park – the old Rolling M. Ranch, was donated by the owners of El Rancho Markets.

“The park is the result of the most complicated set of acquisitions in state park history,” said Schlotterbeck. What started as 2,600 acres has grown into more than 14,000 acres of golden hills and shady canyons that stretch 31 miles from the Santa Ana Mountains to the Whittier Hills.

On my three-hour tour, I saw three snakes: gopher, racer and rattler; plenty of cottontail rabbits; two red-tailed hawks hunting in tandem; a cooper’s hawk on a burned-out walnut tree and took in a vista atop San Juan Hill (1,781 feet) that was shared by man and beast.

“When you’re in the park, you can say `Hey, am I still in Southern California?,’ said Krueper. “Because you don’t see the buildings or the people.”

You could say the best thing about Chino Hills State Park is what you don’t see.

On top of San Juan Hill, the 360-degree vista starts southeast at the Cleveland National Forest, with the Santa Ana Mountains, then after a 90-degree turn the Puente-Chino Hills appear, painting the foreground against the taller San Gabriel Mountains backdrop.

On the hill, high-tension wires crackled in the cool air. A wild gourd plant spilled onto the dirt road like the fringe of a lap blanket. But the view of classic California hills dominated.

Later, as we sat under a pepper tree near the old barn, our eyes again were drawn to those oak-and-walnut speckled hills. Our ears, to nothing.

“Just listen to that silence,” said Schlotterbeck.

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55371-Chino Hills State Park walnuts and oaks.jpg
55372-Chino Hills State Park red barn.jpg
55373-Chino Hills State Park ranger.jpg
55370-Chino Hills State Park campsite.jpg
55374-Chino Hills State Park oak trees.jpg
55375-Chino Hills State Park hills high above.jpg
55376-Chino Hills State Park grasses.jpg
55377-Chino Hills State Park gourd in hand.jpg
55378-Chino Hills State Park fire sign.jpg

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