Although the , Samuel P. Taylor may manage to avoid the chopping block, and its potential savior may surprise you.
Lagunitas Brewing Company, the Petaluma-based brewery that was founded by Tony Magee in Lagunitas in 1993, has put together a plan to take over the management and funding of the popular San Geronimo Valley park.
“My offer to them was to take 100 percent economic responsibility for the park," said Magee, a former Lagunitas resident who now lives in Point Reyes Station. "It would include everything from staffing the park to possibly taking reservations."
Magee was quick to note that while his company is fully committed to the idea of taking over the management and funding of Samuel P. Taylor State Park, the plan has a long way to go.
"There’s no road map for this sort of thing — they’ve never done this before," Magee said. "These sorts of pubic-private partnerships are new terrain for the state parks. We’re in the very earliest stages."
Danita Rodriguez, superintendent of California State Parks in Marin, said that although they have not yet received any proposal from the company, there is a growing community interest in finding partnerships with parties interested in taking on responsibility for parks like Samuel P. Taylor.
Three other parks in Marin — China Camp in San Rafael, Olompali north of Novato and Tomales Bay in West Marin — join Samuel P. Taylor on a list of 70 state parks slated for closure as part of the state budget proposal. The closures would save $33 million, according to the proposal.
Since then, residents, activists and park enthusiasts have been wringing their hands to come up with some way to keep the parks open. Groups like the Save the Redwoods League and the California State Parks Foundation are exploring a variety of alternatives, including organizing and supporting local nonprofits and volunteers to take over most park management responsibilities and partnering with local business like Lagunitas Brewing, among other strategies.
Assemblymember , co-sponsored by the California State Parks Foundation, to make it easier for the state to enter into private management agreements. That bill is expected to be voted on in September.
But even with the bill making it easier to enter into operating agreements, there still has to be someone willing to sign on the dotted line.
In Sonoma, the Parks Alliance of Sonoma has formed to find private partnerships for parks, like the possible Lagunitas Brewing Company one, and raise funds to keep the parks open. The alliance was initiated by the Sonoma Land Trust, Sonoma County Regional Parks and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District but now includes other organizations interested in staving off park closures.
The effort to find partnerships is beginning to get under way in Marin, said Rodriguez, and a meeting is planned in two weeks with various stakeholders, including nonprofits and Marin land managers.
Magee said he's met with several officials from the California State Parks Foundation and told them that he's committed to seeing it through. He acknowledged, however, that it's possible that some might resist the notion of an alcoholic beverage producer managing a state park, and that he's open to other arrangements, including taking a back seat to another potential economic supporter for Samuel P. Taylor.
“I see it like a tax that I will voluntarily pay — I would know exactly where every dollar is going, and it would be going to the public good,” he said.
Magee's business is one of the shining stars in the craft brewing world. Lagunitas Brewing is internationally known, having won dozens of medals at international competitions, and it is among the top 25 craft breweries in the country. Among California craft breweries, it trails only Sierra Nevada, Stone and Anchor in terms of production.
Jerry Emory, director of communications for the California State Parks Foundation, emphasized that plans among private entities to step in to support the state parks in Marin are in their early stages.
“There’s a lot of people who are very upset about China Camp, but there’s no organized effort yet,” he said.
Rodriguez said she wants to make sure that proposals put forward are reviewed with community input. "It needs to have a community test," she said.
Resource protection, a recreation component and preserving the park for future generations are all factors that Rodriguez said need to be considered in any agreement.
"We're looking for a three-to-five year agreement," said Rodriguez. "We want to make sure that any proposal instills the philosophy and values of what state parks are about."
Magee explained that, under his proposal, the parks staff that currently mans Samuel P. Taylor would be moved by the state to other vacancies around California. In turn, a nonprofit set up by Lagunitas Brewing would hire people to work throughout the park.
Most likely, Magee said, the sheriff’s department would pick up the law enforcement aspect of patrolling, which would mean younger (and cheaper) people could be hired to put on programs, man the booths, and provide information to campers.
Though the operating budget for the park is close to $1 million, Magee said, the park takes in revenue for camping reservations. And with cheaper staffing and no long-term pensions, he thinks the nonprofit could “come pretty close to breaking even.”
Even though nothing is finalized, Magee said he’s getting calls from ranchers, bikers, campers and county supervisors in support.
“Everyone’s pretty excited,” he said.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article identified Sonoma County Regional Park Foundation as the coordinating group to save state parks. The correct name is the Parks Alliance of Sonoma.