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Proposed State Park Rule Change Inflames Hikers, Campers and Horseback Riders

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, from Carrizo Badlands Overlook

The goal of this article is to inform our members and friends of a proposed change to regulations related to California State Parks natural and cultural preserves and to invite you to participate in a public hearing on these changes in San Diego on June 22, 2016.

The hearing will be held at:
San Diego County Operations Center, Hearing Room
5520 Overland Avenue, San Diego, CA 93123
Starts at 6 pm and ends when either testimony has completed, or no later than 8 pm.

Background: Around June 1 2016, a flurry of alerts related to a proposed rule change by the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) began to hit local social media, the print media and conservation organization email list serves. Many of the action alerts and email conversations were emotionally overwrought in tone and rife with partial facts and misinformation. State Park’s proposal, originally noticed to the public on April 22nd relates to an amendment of a section of California Code regulating off-trail use in Natural Preserves and Reserves, Cultural Preserves and Reserves within the California State Park System.

CA State Parks initial statement of reasons as posted on their website, (see link below) states that CA DPR proposes to restrict foot, bike and horseback travel to trails and roads in areas especially set aside to protect sensitive natural resources and irreplaceable cultural resources. California State Parks goals in proposing this restriction are completely compatible with DPC’s mission and goals.

Our DPC conservation coordinator and some DPC members were astonished at the huge outcry on the part of hikers and horseback riders around restrictions in the eight cultural preserves of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Many lovers of Anza-Borrego expressed outrage at the idea that their ‘access’ to these popular areas would be constrained. The eight cultural preserves in Anza-Borrego comprise about 40,000 acres. Anza-Borrego, at 600,000 acres, is the largest state park in the lower 48 states. Thus the areas where people would be asked to not hike, bike or horseback ride cross-country is 6.67% of the total park. 

We humans are naturally inclined to rebel against restrictions on activities we have formerly enjoyed without constraint. DPC appreciates the critical need for people to be able to visit wild unspoiled places but given the ongoing population explosion and annual increasing visitation to California state parks, our impacts on habitat and special features are growing. Because there are so many of us seeking peace and quiet, and adventure on our public lands, DPC believes it is imperative that we consider the necessity of imposing some constraints on ourselves in order to preserve some of these wild places for our children and grandchildren. 

What DPC takes issue with, related to this proposed change in management in the cultural and natural preserves, is that State Parks proposes a blanket, one-size-fits-all regulatory change and they have apparently proposed this change without consulting the superintendents and management staff of each state park. 

While we believe that restricting foot and other travel in some of the state preserves and reserves where humans are harming the resources is probably necessary, we urge California State Parks to take a step back and review the need unit by unit in consultation with the managers of each state park.

We urge our members to read the proposed rule changes.

You can email the office of CA DPR Director Lisa Mangat with questions and attend the June 22nd meeting in San Diego.

The initial 45-day public comment period on this proposal closed on June 6th, but written and verbal public comments will be accepted at the June 22 public hearing.

This June 3 San Diego Union Tribune article by J.Harry Jones is informative.