Four days a week for the last decade, Arelious Walker, the senior pastor at True Hope Church, flexes his 80-year-old muscles and walks four miles along Candlestick Point State Recreation Area with a group from his ministry known as Walker's Walkers.
Now he wonders what will become of his old stamping grounds once the state closes the park next year. In May, California State Parks announced that for budget reasons, 70 of its 278 parks — including Candlestick Point — will close by July 2012 if third parties don't intervene.
But if Walker wants details about Candlestick Point's fate, he isn't alone. The park rangers, superintendents, and California State Parks employees SF Weekly spoke with don't know which parks will be closing early, whether they will be closing at all, or even exactly what "closing" entails.
Ann Meneguzzi, the supervising ranger of Candlestick Point, says, "I don't know what's going to happen. We're a whole lot closer to closing than we were two years ago."
Roy Stearns, deputy director for communications of California State Parks, says closing will mean "no staff, no water, sewers, bathrooms, electricity, no overhead. There will be nobody there. It's hard to kick people out ... we just won't be paying anything for any service." He says rangers stationed elsewhere may make the rounds to prevent vandalism and meth labs. (No joke.)
California's first urban state park — and perhaps the first urban park to close — Candlestick Point has been haggled over before. In April, Gov. Jerry Brown approved a long-planned 23-acre transfer of land to Lennar Urban, the company overseeing the massive redevelopment of Bayview-Hunters Point, in exchange for a $50 million fund for the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The other San Francisco-area park closing, Gray Whale Cove State Beach, comes as less of a surprise. Compared to Candlestick Point's 149,806 visitors in 2010, the cove attracted 31,898. Still, those who partook in nude sunbathing there will surely be disappointed. Yelp reviewers have fondly reflected upon the habits of its visitors: "I was only visually violated one time today by an old man, so for this beach, that's something I guess I can handle," one wrote.
Good times, no doubt, but the state sees closing parks as steps toward cutting $22 million from the state budget. Stearns says closing Gray Whale Cove and Candlestick Point should save $41,819 and $582,285 per year, respectively. But 2012 is still a way off. "We hope to find partners who can fund these parks to keep them open either totally or partially," he says.
Currently, more than 30 state parks are run by counties, cities, and nonprofits. Walker says he might consider the nonprofit option himself. "It's a beautiful park. You've got jackrabbits down there, you have crows and ground squirrels. And the sun that comes up — it's just astounding."