It's a grand and glorious vision indeed.
California State Parks has great plans for the 450-mile-long Central Valley -- plans that would include:
• Adding 22,500 acres of parkland
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• Opening 11 state parks and upgrading 35 existing ones
• More than doubling the number of campsites to 3,500
• Increasing the number of picnic areas from 1,500 to 2,500
• Creating "recreation networks" that link parks with hiking trails, rivers and other outdoor recreation sites
Many of those additions and improvements would occur in our region -- the area dubbed the "San Joaquin River Valley" that includes Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Tuolumne, Calaveras, Mariposa, Madera and Fresno counties -- from a new state park at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, to expanding Turlock Lake State Recreation Area by 1,650 acres, to adding campsites and trails at places such as Caswell State Park and San Luis Reservoir.
As is common these days, there's only one big hurdle to turning that glittering vision into reality: money.
The price tag is north of $270 million over 20 years, and there's no meaningful money in the bank to implement the plan. Granted, there are some small purchases, lots of planning under way and efforts by local officials and nonprofits on some projects, but that's about it.
The Central Valley, which stretches from Bakersfield to Redding, is one of the most park-deprived areas of the state, and only will become more so because of its population, which is projected to double over the next two decades.
It is "being shortchanged," said state parks Director Ruth Coleman. She says the region is not as politically organized as others in the state to seek funds.
Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, said the Central Valley is a prime example of the 278 state parks not being fairly distributed across California.
What's the solution?
Goldstein and other park advocates say one way to fix that is to pass Proposition 21 on the November ballot, which would add $18 to the vehicle license fee in return for free day use at all state parks.
Proponents say the hike would generate enough cash -- a net increase of about $350 million a year -- to maintain and operate state parks adequately.
Among the arguments they are making is that once the maintenance shortfall is fixed, the state can turn its attention to adding parkland in underserved areas such as the valley.
Regardless of what happens to Proposition 21 when voters go to the polls in two months, there's another step that could -- and, we say, should -- be taken.
Californians have approved bonds in the past for parks. Whenever the next bond issue comes for parkland acquisition and construction, the Central Valley -- including our northern end of the San Joaquin Valley -- should be at the head of the line to receive the proceeds.
After all, we who live, work and play in the valley deserve our fair share of the parks and trails that allow us to enjoy California's natural bounty.
There are needs -- and opportunities -- aplenty. And the California State Parks vision provides a clear road map of how to meet them.
The California State Parks vision is available at www.parks.ca.gov/centralvalleyvision.