An ambitious plan to save state parks |

An ambitious plan to save state parks

Liz Kellar
Tribune News Service
Photo for The Union by John HartAlden Olmsted with a plastic bottle he made with his father's face on it; if every California resident will pay a dollar it will save the state parks that are closing. Photo taken at the old Highway 49 bridge, South Fork Yuba River.

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. – Alden Olmsted has a plan to save California’s beleaguered state parks, a dollar at a time.

And in so doing, Olmsted finds himself following in his father’s footsteps, an experience he described as having “its surreal moments.”

John Olmsted, who died March 8, is best-known in Nevada County for his efforts to save land within what is now the South Yuba River State Park system, most notably the wheelchair-accessible Independence Trail with its restored Gold Rush-era wooden flumes and Bridgeport with its covered bridge and beaches.

In total, John Olmsted was involved with saving 11 parcels of land from development, including Jug Handle State Natural Reserve on the rugged coastline of Mendocino.

Now, two of his envisioned “necklace of parks” strung across California are in jeopardy, after both South Yuba River and Jug Handle were placed on a list of 70 state parks that will close after Labor Day.

California State Parks has announced a plan to close up to a quarter of its 278 parks due to budget cuts, which officials say are necessary to achieve an $11 million reduction in 2011-12, and $22 million in the following fiscal year. The closures will begin after September and will continue through a deadline of July 1, 2012.

Alden Olmsted recently moved to Nevada County to handle his father’s estate and to continue promoting his documentary on his father’s legacy, “My Father Who Art in Nature.”

He first got word of the projected cuts to the state parks while he was at KVMR.

“I could not, in good conscience, do nothing,” Olmsted said. “Particularly so soon after having finished my film, which showed parts of the many parks that my dad was responsible for, and having accepted a lifetime achievement award in his honor as a trails volunteer … My dad established many of Northern California’s great state parks; the least I can do is help to save them.”

Olmsted’s response to the state’s budget shortfall definitely is in keeping with his father’s do-it-yourself spirit.

“I will take on the challenge of raising as much of that $33 million – just as my dad would have – $1 at a time,” he said. “The call to action is easy: Every resident needs to donate $1 towards the parks, and 100 percent of the funds will go straight towards that financial deficit.”

Olmsted had put together a fundraising website – – and the first $2 in the kitty came from him and his father.

“While cleaning out my dad’s house, and going through his things, I found his old wallet with a smiling driver’s license picture and a few crinkled dollars,” he said. “The first $1, therefore, has already been donated, by John Olmsted.”

Olmsted has picked out the 18 counties that have two or more parks on the chopping block as his targets, and plans to have donation jars with his father’s face emblazoned on them at each park.

“If anyone has a plastic jar or a 2-gallon bucket they want to donate, they can e-mail me (at,” Olmsted said.

There already are efforts going on throughout the state to help keep the parks open – but they need to be unified, said Olmsted, who is hoping to work with the California State Parks Foundation.

“I’m learning my dad had a lot of important friends – and with my name and legacy, I can get my foot in the door,” he said.

The message needs to go out – not to the avid hikers and bicyclists and outdoors enthusiasts who already have rallied, but to the general public, Olmsted said.

“More important maybe than the amount we raise will be the statement made, and the reawakening of residents who perhaps forget the very parks that are in their own backyards – and that the parks are all of our responsibilities, not just this year, but always,” he said. “There has to be a balance. My message is that it’s not just about money, or just about involvement, it’s both. The public and the parks (system) both need to step up.”

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