California Main Streets Threatened by Park Closings

UPDATE: On July 29, California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger signed the state budget, which includes $14.2 million in cuts to state parks. According to the Save Our State Parks coalition, it is expected this will result in the closure of perhaps more than 100 state parks. National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe has issued a statement on this unfortunate turn of events.

If you've ever traveled to the Golden State and spent any time exploring the majestic outdoors there, you likely have visited one of California's 220 state parks, which may close soon due to lack of state funding. As you might imagine, the impact on California Main Street towns could be devastating: more than 19 nearby California Main Street communities stand to be affected by the loss of an estimated $6.5 billion in visitor spending.

Currently, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and four other key state officials (dubbed the "Big 5") are considering the closure of 220 state parks in response to a projected $15 billion budget deficit—a number that may actually be as high as $28 billion[1].  In either case, this measure will save only an estimated $149 million (less than one tenth of one percent) while costing the state $350 million in lost tax revenue from tourist dollars.

Grass Valley is a quintessential gold rush town that depends on the Empire Mine State Historic Park for a large part of its income.

Credit: Len Gilbert

It doesn't add up.

For Main Street districts in close proximity to the parks threatened with closure, this fuzzy math could have dire consequences. Take Grass Valley, for example. A community of 15,000, Grass Valley is a quintessential historic gold rush town, born out of gold mining in the hard quartz rock of the Sierra Foothills region. Although other areas market themselves as "Gold Country," more gold came out of the Empire Mine than any other mine in California; and Nevada County is blessed with three state parks—all threatened—that celebrate its gold mining heritage. 

The Empire Mine State Historic Park, located in Grass Valley, attracts more than 120,000 visitors annually.

Credit: Howard Levine

The Empire Mine State Historic Park, located within Grass Valley's city limits, is a major destination, attracting more than 120,000 visitors annually. If the Empire were to close, the impact on Grass Valley would equate to losing the combined income of more than 285 families. But, in the words of Howard Levine, executive director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association, even that number falls short of capturing the park's value:  "It's hard to really put a price on what that means to a small town like Grass Valley." 

Ukiah, a city of 15,000 in Mendocino County is another community vulnerable to a loss in parks-related tourism. Ukiah has only one state park directly adjacent to it, but many tourists visit the area en route to several nearby parks, all of which are on the closure list except for one. The popularity of these parks is rising, as more Californians choose the "stay-cation" option over more costly out-of-state trips. This has a direct positive impact on spending in nearby Main Street districts. As Joy Beeler, executive director of Ukiah Main Street puts it, "We may not travel to Hawaii and go shopping in downtown Lahaina, but we can drive an hour to our own Mendocino Headlands and shop in downtown Fort Bragg for fun."  Their proximity to the parks has allowed Main Street districts to survive in an economy characterized by belt-tightening.

Ukiah, a California Main Street community in Mendocino County, stands to lose considerable revenue if the state parks in the surrounding region are closed.


Whatever the locality and whatever the cultural, recreational or historical attraction, there is one clear conclusion: cutting parks will reduce the number of park visitors, which will reduce visitor spending and revenue to private businesses by tens of millions, causing job layoffs and damage to local economies. In the end, that will reduce tax revenue to the state and make California's budget situation worse, not better.

  • Learn moreabout the endangered California parks and the parks slated for closure.
  • Bookmark stay informed of updates and ways to help.
  • Send a letterto the Big Five, encouraging them to reach a reasonable budget solution that preserves the state's rich and storied parks system and its nearby Main Street districts.
  • Sign your community up as a supporter of California State Parks and encourage your local partners to do the same

[1] Taken  from "State Parks Tourist Dollars Fuel Local Economies and General Fund Revenue" Fact Sheet, California Department of Parks and Recreation Some estimates place the budget deficit as high as $28.3 billion.