The images won't appear in any California State Parks brochure.
MacKerricher State Park: Fifty elementary-school kids arrive for their annual end-of-year camping trip, only to find the drinking water contaminated.
Mount Tamalpais: A trail near the visitors center greets disabled visitors and families with a 12- to 50-foot sheer drop-off — and no guardrail.
Hearst Castle: The marble Neptune Pool at California's most famous state park leaks so much that stalactites have formed in a cavity underneath.
Look beyond the crashing waves and towering redwoods, and California's 278 state parks are a tangle of troubles. The nation's largest state parks system is weighed down by a $1.3 billion maintenance backlog, according to a review of park records by The Sacramento Bee.
Park visitors already have dealt with abbreviated schedules and services. Now decay and neglect in the parks endanger the environment, artifacts — and even public health, as the students and parents of Skyfish School in Redway recently learned.
"It's been a real hassle," said Mark Jensen, a parent and chaperone who had to keep 50 kids from drinking the water at MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg. "There were actually a couple kids who drank some before we could get the word out."
Much of the park decay exists because maintenance has been largely ignored for more than a decade amid slim and slimmer state budgets. Buildings and infrastructure, subject to constant exposure and heavy use, just get worse until they fail.
As a result, the backlog has more than doubled since 2001, when it was estimated at $600 million.
The operating budget for state parks from state funding and user fees — which pays for day-to-day maintenance, law enforcement and administration — stands at about $330 million this fiscal year. In 2001, it was $314 million. Adjusted for inflation, however, that reflects a 15 percent drop.
Meanwhile, during those same years, California added 12 parks and 100,000 acres of land to its system.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vowed to leave the $140 million general fund subsidy intact this year, after he was criticized in 2009 for requiring partial closure of 60 parks and cutbacks systemwide.
It remains to be seen whether the Legislature will agree to keep the parks budget intact — and status-quo funding will do little to shrink the mountain of untended maintenance.
Read more of this story at SacBee.com