It’s been a rough few years for California’s state parks. Since 2008, the state has threatened nearly all the parks with closure, only to save many of them at the last minute thanks in large part to private donations. One such donor, ex-Marine General Anthony Jackson, is now taking over the department after the scandalous resignation of the former head, who had helped to hide $54 million in park funds while the system was in dire straits.
Appointed in November, Jackson is now tasked with restoring faith in the department. So far, so good: Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s kind of shocking how much I like him.” She said Jackson “may be exactly the right man at the right time” for the job. Not that the job will be a super-fun one.
Restoring the sheen to the state’s park system won’t be easy.
The discovery of about $54 million that parks officials had hidden will not solve the funding problems. More than $1 billion in maintenance work has been put off over the years. The accounting scandal, including fresh irregularities unearthed last month by Brown’s Department of Finance and the state controller, may even make things harder.
“It’s going to be difficult to get people in the state of California to rally around parks,” said Dan Jacobson, legislative director at Environment California, an advocacy group. “The image of the money found in someone’s couch is going to keep popping up.”
Jackson comes across as a seriously no-nonsense character, which may not be surprising for a retired Marine general. He doesn’t have any background in politics, but he told Bay Nature that’s a great thing when it comes to this job.
Because I was in the military for so long, I come without any political baggage, without anything but the desire to serve this state in a way that enhances the state park system, and preserves the natural and cultural resources of that system.
Jackson says he has “no mandate” to oversee closures of any parks, let alone closure of a quarter of the system, an idea floated by the state last year. But that doesn’t mean he has any particularly crazy ideas for renewal. From the L.A. Times:
Jackson, who must be confirmed for his new post by the state Senate within a year of his appointment, is still getting his bearings in Sacramento. His vision for the parks system is a work in progress.
“Everything is on the table,” he said. “Everything except fouling the beauty of our parks. We’re not going to turn our parks into Disney World or an arcade.”
Jackson’s real love of parks coupled with his real Marine “passion” could go a long way toward cleaning up California’s mess. The parks aren’t
out of into the woods yet — more damning audits and reports are expected over the coming weeks. But if there’s anyone who knows how to handle the gut shots of fiscal failure, Jackson may well be it.