Moss Landing State Park’s quiet end

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One of California’s greatest assets is its natural environment. Nearly every landscape imaginable is within a day’s trip from here. To the east you’ve got the snowy Sierras. To the south, the blazing deserts. In the middle lie the plains and the sunny valleys. And right here in the Bay, black rock beaches, white sand dunes, and steamy, smelly marshes.

But soon, access to some of those wonders will disappear. Seventy of Californias nearly 300 state parks will shut down by this time next year. It’ll shave more than $10 million off the deficit. But what will it mean to the Californians who love their state parks?

KALW’s Kyle Tabuena-Frolli went to Moss Landing, halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, to find out.

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KYLE TABUENA-FROLLI: I’m on a beach smack dab in the middle of California. The breeze coming off the jetty is getting violent, and it’s really cold. Through the fog, I can only see a couple hundred feet of gray ocean. This is where I meet Mike…

MIKE FRENCH: Mike French is my name.

He’s standing on a windy bluff away from the water – reading the low waves and the bored surfers for signs of a good set. He’s a local.

FRENCH: Yeah, I’m local…

Which means –

FRENCH: Oh, yeah, I come and check it: three or four times a week, at least. And it’s only good enough to go in once or twice a week, particularly at this time of year.

We watch the surfers bob for a bit. I ask him what makes this state park so special for him.

FRENCH: Well, the fact that the jetty is here and way the cichlid causes the sand...

He launches into this whole deal about the sand bars and the swells and the jetty’s paddling channel; how, in the winter, the coldness from the north bumps the waves to just the right height and form.

FRENCH: And you can ride it without just getting foam.

He points to a surfer coming in hot.

FRENCH: Exactly like that. You know, it’s a great spot for many reasons…

A great spot for surfers. A great spot for bird watchers and the otter photographers that show up every year. A great spot for fishermen on the jetty, hoping to catch some luck. This is Moss Landing State Beach. And in a year, it’ll still be here – but Californians won’t. The state’s closing the park, maybe for good. That was news to French.

FRENCH: No, I hadn’t heard that.

He thought about it for a second, then said something interesting.

FRENCH: Now, when you say, “closing the beach” – does that mean they’re going to wall it off so there would be no access? Or there’s just going to be no maintenance?

I was wondering the same thing, so I talked with Park Ranger Dana Jones.

DANA JONES: This is the Monterey district…

She manages all the state parks on the central coast, from –

JONES: Henry Coe, down to Julia Pfeiffer Burns, over to San Juan Bautista.

Jones has to close four parks in her area by next year. That’s close to 140 square miles of chaparral, beach, and forest: the equivalent of three San Franciscos put together.

I asked her what “closed” really means. What she said surprised me.

JONES: So, we’re not really sure what closed means. My thought is that, probably after the summer’s over, we’ll start looking at how we’re going to make the transition, make the closures.

Jones has never had to make such drastic cuts. But this year, it was necessary. Moss Landing looked so modest. So I asked what sort of money the state put into it.

JONES: That beach, just on the surface, the first thing you can look at is – we have a contract with a vendor, who provides the outhouses for us. So that’s a cost there. We have trashcans out there...

Just like the surfer detailed what makes Moss Landing so perfect, the ranger launches into the fine print of what it really takes to keep the place together: the cost of the ranger patrol, the cost of the lifeguards – seasonal and non-seasonal – and…

JONES: For Moss Landing this is a really big one…

…the cost to remove the sand that blows across the road from the beach at least five times a year. Then there’s the cost of erasing vandalism, of fixing the fences, of keeping the endangered snowy plover alive in the dunes.

JONES: Oh, I’m not done! Let’s finish how much it costs! And then we have resources, because at Moss Landing State Beach we have a number of endangered species, both animals and plants. So we have what we call Natural Resources Crew...

She goes on and on. But what I really get out of her speech is that this beach – this mile of sand they’re closing by next July – costs a lot to her, to the state, and to us. But what happens when we shut them down? Jones has been looking to another state that recently shut down some parks: Minnesota.

JONES: They’re seeing just huge vandalism issues: people are going into the closed parks and spray painting everything and tearing things apart. We’re hoping our park visitors will be a lot nicer. We have to have some optimism on that.

FRENCH: So, I don’t know. Surfers will get out here and surf – I can guarantee that’s going to happen. The ramifications of closing the park ... I don’t know yet. Maybe there won’t be trashcans, there won’t be port-a-potties. People won’t be able to come out here and watch the otters from this side.

TABUENA-FROLLI: But the surfers will be here long after it closes.

FRENCH: Yeah, you bet.

And so I say goodbye and leave the cold, foggy beach behind. I look back and Mike French is still standing there, watching the ocean. After the out-of-towners pack up their picnics, after Ranger Jones padlocks the gate, after the sand blows over the road and the ice plants stake their new claim over the forgotten concrete – after it all, he’ll probably still be out there.

In Moss Landing, I’m Kyle Tabuena-Frolli for Crosscurrents.

What are your thoughts on the closure of California State Parks? When they’re shut down, will you go there anyway? Share your thoughts on ourFacebookpage.