Save The Parks
When California announced that it would close 70 of its parks by July because of budget cuts, two Bay Area locals decided to take action.
Four months and three thousand miles inside the confines of a van, visiting an average of two state parks a day sounds like a lot for even the most avid of outdoorsmen — something neither Lauren Valentino nor Jarratt Moody were particularly. But, when California announced last May that it would close one quarter — that's 70 — of its 279 parks by July of this year in order to save $22 million a year, the two San Francisco residents knew they had to act fast.
Six weeks later, they had quit their jobs and were on the road.
The two had been spending most of their weekends outdoors, including at many of the parks on the fateful blacklist. "A ton of parks in the Bay Area are getting closed, so residents there are particularly affected." Moody explained. "It's unbelievable — if you're a resident here and see that list, it's hard not to feel like you're getting something taken away from you."
So they decided to make a documentary. Moody's background in video production coupled with a friend crossing the country in a converted airport van at the time made this a natural choice. Soon, they were traversing the state, collecting 3000 miles on the van, recording the stunning scenery, conducting interviews and cherishing these parks' last days.
The movie, The First 70, which came out on April 22 (Earth Day), is not only about saving the parks — Valentino and Moody are realistic ("parks are definitely going to close") — but also a means of raising awareness. "It's not about telling people that parks are closing but that they are closing for no reason," Valentino said.
According to the activists, the measly $22 million a year saved by the state does not take local economies into consideration. Moody explains that the average park visitor spends $42 per day in taxable revenue (gas, groceries, etc.) "So it's actually not going to save any money.
It's just going to ruin a lot of people's lives for no reason. It may look good on paper, but some places, like Mendecino County, rely heavily on that income. Mendecino is very much a tourist town, and these tourists come for the parks and wilderness, so I don't know what would happen to this county." In fact, Mendecino isn't alone; six entire counties are losing all of their parks come July.
The First 70 is also about getting people into a room to talk about the same thing, and, ideally, finding ways to raise money and take action. "Nonprofits are overwhelmed by the idea of taking over operations in these parks, so ideally they want to find ways to raise the money to be able to keep the same people who used to be in charge," Moody said. It's also about changing how these parks function, increasing parking revenue or day-use fees to create a sustainable income. Plus, finding new revenue and cost savings would protect the jobs of hundreds of park workers.
"This shouldn't be on our shoulders, to keep our parks open. The parks already rely so much on volunteers — they're counting on about 20 million dollars worth of volunteer work — but these people need to make money. They need their own jobs," Moody said. "California needs to get itself together and get itself out of debt," he concedes, but argues that "the forest belongs to everybody. The government can't deny people access to their own land." thefirst70.com
BY ROSELYN SEBASTIAN
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