Editor’s note: In June 2013, California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird and California State Parks Director Major General Anthony L. Jackson, USMC (Ret.), unveiled “Parks Forward,” a collaborative initiative to undertake a top-to-bottom evaluation to improve and sustain California’s State Parks System.

The effort responded to several issues involving misappropriation of the agency’s funding and a March 2013 recommendation from California’s Little Hoover Commission report urging a new operating model.

This article summarizes the findings from 10 public workshops conducted throughout the state in September and October 2013.

Public input in the workshops was organized around three main themes: 1) meeting the needs of all Californians, 2) sustainable funding, and 3) effective partnerships.

• Participants at all of the public workshops advocated strongly for state funding as well as a diverse mix of other funding sources. A suite of funding sources is needed because no one source, such as the state’s General Fund, is sufficient.

Most participants did not expect individual parks to be financially self-sufficient. Therefore, the statewide benefits of state parks creates a responsibility for the state to fund core park functions such as safety, natural resource protection, and interpretation.

Many participants cautioned against increasing park fees, while some acknowledged that some fee increases may be appropriate to address specific uses with identifiable costs associated with them. This was called the beneficiary pays approach.

General sentiment was common among the workshop participants that state parks could use volunteers to a greater extent.

• Long-term success requires meeting the needs of California’s evolving populations. Participants pointed out that certain parts of the state — such as the Central Valley and many urban areas, particularly in Southern California — are under-served by state parks relative to other parts of the state, according to the report.

Not much support exists for creating new state parks at this time. The question about the conditions and criteria by which new state parks should be created was not addressed at many of the public workshops. However, when it was discussed, the general view was the agency needs to address its existing financial challenges before looking to add new parks to the system.

A related common theme heard in all of the workshops was that the use of state parks is restricted for many potential user groups, such as dog owners, mountain bikers, naturists (seeking use of clothing-optional beaches), horseback riders, youths, outdoor recreationists, vehicles-on-beach users, mushroom hunters and photographers, among others.

Importance of relationships with local communities was stressed at most workshops. Many urged the state parks to reach out and increase their local partnerships with community-based organizations and schools.