San Diego Has Two State Park Budget Cut Casualties

Article By: R.J. Villa
Photo: Doane Valley: Jessica Murany

Have you ever been to Palomar Mountain State Park or San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park? You better plan a trip at some point this year. Despite the longtime popularity of Palomar Mountain State Park and the historical significance of one of California’s only battlefields from the Mexican-American War, both parks were listed budget cut casualties on the Department of Parks and Recreation’s list released on May 13th earlier this year. In total, 70 state parks of the 278 are scheduled to close statewide as a direct result of the $22 million budget cut enacted by Governor Jerry Brown and the Legislature.

The mission statement of California State Parks is to provide for the health, inspiration and education of Californians by helping to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high quality outdoor recreation. Lists threatening state park closures have been released in the past, but this is the first time in the 100-year history of California’s state park system that these closures will actually become a harsh reality.

“The Governor proposes a budget to the Legislation who then begins the process of negotiations with the Governor for the final budget,” explains Nedra Martinez, California State Parks Superintendent in an open letter released on May 18th.

“The final budget is always something between what the Governor has proposed and what the Legislation proposes. As a government agency we have to start the planning process with what the Governor has proposed, even knowing that it may change with the final budget approval. With that said, this is our plan as of today. Starting sometime around September 2011, we will be closing Palomar Mountain State Park from Monday – Thursday. It will only be open Friday – Sunday for camping and day use.”

The buildings will be boarded up and the utilities will be turned off or greatly reduced as of July 2012. Palomar Mountain State Park will be closed. Depending on park employees’ seniority, they will either be relocated somewhere in the state or laid off.  Martinez continues to explain the impact on the surrounding community in the letter.

“We will work with both the Conference Center and the School Camp to lessen, as much as possible, the impact this will have on them. The impact this will have on the community will be great. Fortunately, the state park is not the only attraction on the mountain and visitors will still come to visit the Observatory and the National Forest. I know the community will be concerned about access to the Nate Grade, especially in emergencies. Both the Volunteer Fire Department and Cal Fire will have locks on the gates. In the event of an emergency, they will be able to open the gates and allow people to exit the mountain on the Nate Grade Road. We acknowledge that the potential for damage to the park resources is very high. We have never closed a state park before and can only imagine what this will mean to the resources and the buildings.”

“At this time it will not affect the school camp,” said Martinez.  “However, the school camp also has budget issues and is considering closing after this school year.”

Rick Barclay is webmaster for as well as the Crew leader with Palomar Mountain State Park’s Trail Maintenance Unit. He gives us a closer ear to the ground on the impact towards the locals in the Palomar area.

“This is of concern not only to visitors, but to the local community, because, for example, a very popular truck trail-shortcut to the valley below (Nate Harrison Road) could become inaccessible if the park entrance is locked,” explains Barclay. “Another possible casualty of the closure is accessibility by the public to the historical fire tower on Boucher Hill that’s currently undergoing reconstruction.”

It is kind of hard to imagine that a state park averaging 142,796 visitors a year is actually closing. Palomar Mountain State Park gives Southern Californians a taste of the Sierra Nevada wilderness nestled in North County San Diego. Its 1,862 acres are mostly covered by coniferous forests and surrounded by dry lowlands. From the mountain’s peak, on a clear day you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It has been a longtime destination for camping, picnics, hiking, and fishing in Doane Pond. The state’s budget crisis placed Palomar on the block when it took into consideration the park’s size and the fact that it is not overrun with people. These factors were the kill shot. According to Roy Sterns, Deputy Director of Communications for California State Parks, California will only save less than $160,000 a year by closing Palomar Mountain State Park: only a small portion of the $22 million dollar budget cut.

When asked about some of his favorite memories within Palomar Mountain State Park, Barclay couldn’t pinpoint only one.

“I do not have only one special memory, just years of hiking in the park with my wife and sons throughout the seasons; although, I do enjoy driving up the mountain on a gloomy, foggy morning, and then towards the top suddenly pushing through the cloud into the open sunlight and blue skies.”

My own personal memories of visiting Palomar Mountain State Park stretch back to my childhood, elementary school to be exact. Patrol Camp and San Diego City Schools’ Sixth Grade Camp were my first of many visits up the mountain. Like many of us San Diegans, those visits were my first introduction to nature. I attribute those childhood experiences as to why I have become an active outdoorsman and angler in my later life.

While the list released by the state has been final, the fight to try and save the park is ongoing. Barclay has worked with Park Ranger Jessica Murany to create in order to help put a face on Palomar Mountain State Park. There are links to previous articles regarding the park closure, as well as sample letters and the Governor’s mailing address to help amplify those voices trying to save the park. The site has also gathered photographs, letters, and memories of those who have grown to love the park. The fight is not over, but time is running out.

With the impending park closures, Barclay explains that things up at Palomar Mountain are still operating like they always have.

“Even though these are sad times, when you arrive you’ll find the atmosphere to be as pleasant as ever and park staff as cheerful and dedicated as ever,” says Barclay. “Palomar Mountain State Park seems to have that effect on people. The park’s staff and volunteers are proceeding as if nothing is happening. We’re still maintaining the trails, keeping the facilities in shape, making improvements, even making long range plans. If I could get any message out, it’s that we are still open. So, keep coming to Palomar Mountain State Park.”

The other state park in San Diego County facing closure is not as well-known, but it commemorates the site of one of the only battlefields in California during the Mexican-American War in the 1800s. San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park overlooks the San Pasqual Valley, the site of the bloodiest battle in the Mexican-American War. During this battle, American forces sought to take California while Mexican forces sought to keep it. Generals Stephen Kearny and Andres Pico both claimed victory in a very bloody and controversial outcome. The park has been set aside not as a monument to war, but as a reminder of the human ideals, actions, and passions that can drive nations to bloodshed. State park volunteers have been conducting tours of the facility and have been providing living history programs.

They have also been re-enacting the historic battle commemoratively, which typically takes place on the Sunday closest to December 6th. The last one took place on December 5th, 2010. The re-enactments contain music, entertainment, a military encampment, children’s activities, and craft demonstrations. Living History Days are scheduled for the first Sundays of January – June, as well as in October and November. The San Diego Archaeological Center on-site is also dedicated to the curation of historic artifacts found in the San Diego area. In addition, there are a couple of hiking trails at the State Historic Park. The Battlefield Monument Trail is a one-mile roundtrip trail near the visitor center; and it also connects with the Nature Trail, a 0.25-mile trail beginning on the hillside behind the visitor center.

“I never knew that the state park existed until the list was released,” admits San Diego native and resident Nicholas Toshimi. “I am definitely planning a visit before its permanent closure. It’s a part of our regional and American history.”

San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park has long been on the state’s budget cut radar as California State Parks have been implementing service reductions to meet Department budget cuts with service reductions implemented as far back as fall 2009. The museum hours were cut to only weekends, and there was a lessening of ongoing facility maintenance. As of right now, service reductions have not included the San Diego Archaeological Center, or educational programs offered by volunteers. San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park commemorates a piece of our regional history. This historical landmark will be wiped off the map along with 69 other state parks barring the successful actions of those working hard to save them.

The story of budget cuts implementing state park closures and the numerous attempts to save them are being echoed up and down our state, county to county. The bigger picture shows this happening across the country as well. While we only considered the two  affecting San Diego County, a glance at the complete list of California park closures found at puts this tragedy into perspective. State beaches, museums, parks, and recreation areas are all under the knife. Each place holds fond memories in the hearts of those who visited, much like my childhood and recent memories of Palomar Mountain. As picturesque as these sights are, we can only hope that they will not be sold down the road by the state to developers to continue to build more mini-malls, condos, and track homes on what was once protected state land. Only time will tell.

While I still have yet to visit every spot on this list, I intend to visit as many as I can before the state closes them. You should too. We can only hope that the actions of those looking to save these historical and natural sites can significantly minimize the total of park closures in the next year. Write Governor Jerry Brown and become active in our local efforts to prevent this closure.

“All of this could change any day,” Martinez explains. “It all depends on how the budget decisions play out and how much the public voices their opinions to their legislators. The two best things you can do is write to your legislature or join the State Park Foundation as they are active in keeping parks open.”

Palomar Mountain State Park
19952 State Park Drive
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060

San Pasqual Battlefield State Historical Park
15808 San Pasqual Valley Road
Escondido, CA 92027

For more information on Palomar Mountain State Park or San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park, please visit:

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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