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Charting the Course for 21st Century California State Parks

The California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) is embracing a new vision to better serve a growing and diverse population through a more relevant, inviting state park system. In recent years, the DPR has made progress in an array of important arenas – including improving park access for all Californians, deepening its network of partners across all sectors, strengthening relationships with local communities, and advancing the long-term financial health of the statewide system.

The seeds of this transformation were planted in July 2013, when the Secretary of Natural Resources appointed the Parks Forward Commission to assess the unique challenges California’s state parks face and identify ways to solidify the future of the DPR. In 2014, the Commission developed a sweeping set of recommendations reflected in its report, “A New Vision for California State Parks.”

Guided by the Commission’s report, the Brown Administration assembled a Transformation Team comprised of experienced staff from the DPR along with leaders from relevant outside entities and professional consultants. In 2015, this team and its committees activated a two-year Transformation Action Plan driven by four strategic goals for the state park system:

  • Protect and enhance natural and cultural resources
  • Develop excellent management systems
  • Maintain high-quality operations and public service
  • Create meaningful connections and relevancy to people

March 2017 marked the completion of this stage of transformation for the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Highlights include:

  • Modernized financial and operations systems. The DPR has redesigned staff hiring processes; begun implementing a modern, integrated reservation system; overhauled its budgeting process to better allocate resources to priorities; and improved revenue accounting and revenue collection processes.

  • Expanded access to leadership positions for candidates from broader and more diverse professional backgrounds. DPR management now better reflects the diverse professional teams working throughout the department; plus, opening up the candidate pool to talented applicants from outside of state service allows for a more competitive process to select the state park system’s top leaders.

  • Created a Leadership Development Program with California State University of Sacramento. The first class of DPR department leaders has completed this program. 

  • Improved relations with community groups and organizations through a new Partnership Office. The DPR Partnership Office serves as a concierge for local and federal agencies, California Indian tribes, nonprofit groups and foundations, business and volunteer groups, private contractors, and others who engage with the state park system. It also supports parks field staff who interact with these organizations and groups.

  • Launched community liaison projects. The DPR has begun efforts at Los Angeles State Historic Park and Candlestick Point State Recreation Area to further support local communities. The intent is to build state parks from the ground with, not for, these residents.

  • Introduced and showcased California’s public outdoor places. The DPR has implemented vibrant programs such as Outdoor Youth Connection, Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORTS), Google Street View Treks, as well as adopted social media platforms such as Periscope.

This work has set an enduring path for the DPR. The department plans to maintain and enhance the initiatives and projects developed during this intensive two-year period of transformation. To that end, a sustainability strategy is in place to guide the transfer of initiatives and projects, when appropriate, to DPR workgroups for ongoing implementation.

This progress reflects a dedicated and impressive level of commitment from the Transformation Team, the Parks Forward Commission, DPR staff and partners, Governor Brown’s administration, the state legislature, and many other stakeholders who believe that parks are essential to the well-being of California and its people. It takes concerted and coordinated effort to make long-term, system-wide change at the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation provided more than $5 million in support for this effort since 2012 and is a proud partner in this initiative to create a world-class state park system.