Commentary: California's state parks are becoming a Wild West

California's 278 state parks are part of our collective inheritance. Yet as The Bee's continuing series on state parks illustrated Sunday, it's an inheritance we could easily squander by abusing our parks and failing to ensure they are properly patrolled.

Reported by McClatchy Newspapers' five California papers, Sunday's story notes that crimes in state parks have more than doubled on a daily basis since 1999, to 170 per day last year.

Most of the reported crimes are minor. But problems such as noise, alcohol abuse and vandalism discourage law-abiding Californians from enjoying their state parks. That's why it's essential that lawmakers, parks advocates and user groups take steps to crack down on problems, particularly in the most crime-ridden parks. These tend to be beaches, off-road vehicle areas and state park lakes that allow watercraft.

According to research by McClatchy reporters, Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area in San Luis Obispo County had the highest number of reported crimes in 2009 – 5,857 – followed by Lake Perris with 2,942. Folsom Lake State Recreation Area reported 1,545 crimes that year.

In all likelihood, these numbers under-report actual criminal activity in such parks. Rangers don't have the time to do the paperwork or catch trespassers who fail to pay entrance fees. Nearly 30 percent of the state's 339 ranger positions are vacant now.

Parks supporters hope The Bee's news stories will build public support for a ballot initiative in November that provides the parks with a stable funding base through an annual $18 motor vehicle fee increase.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.