At the end of July, the Parks Forward Commission, an independent state panel, released a draft report with four major recommendations to protect and to advance the California State Parks in the 21st century.

The panel was created two years ago to review the park’s current operations and make recommendations to establish a vibrant and successful park agency. The report’s recommendations are intended to bolster and strengthen the agency’s survivability as an on-going public service.

After several public meetings, hours of testimony and research, the commission came to several conclusions, which guided its recommendations: “Our recommendations are rooted in two overarching findings. First, today’s State Park System is debilitated by outdated organizational structures, technologies and business tools, and by a culture that does not adequately reward excellence or innovation. Second, the system does not provide a park experience that serves all Californians or attracts other potential visitors.

“Our recommendations are not designed to merely tinker around the edges and patch the current system,” noted the press release about the draft report. “Instead, we present a plan to transform state park management and modernize state park operations.”

The recommendations cover four principal concepts: transform existing operational policies and agency culture; enhance more partnerships with federal, local and private groups; invest and seek to attract a wider spectrum of California’s population; and develop long-term, stable funding.

Fundamental change within the Department of Parks and Recreation is necessary for the program’s existence and expansion, according to the commission. As an example of changing its corporate culture, the commission recommended a broader search for managers and rejected the concept that management positions need to be occupied by officials with peace officer certification.

Part of expanding the use of partnerships to sustain park operations was the recommendation to create a California Parks Conservancy “…to provide operational, financial and strategic support for organizations that manage or operate parks and other protected lands, with its first priority being the state parks.”

Broadening the attraction of state parks would come through the development of new amenities and even transportation options.

A public meeting on the plan was held in San Diego Aug. 6. The commission’s final plan will be released in late November.

In June 2013, California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird and former 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 recommendation from California’s Little Hoover Commission report urging a new operating model.