Ever since Jennifer Rogers Etcheverry talked to California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman last Friday about the proposed closing of Will Rogers Historic State Park as part of state budget-tightening measures, she has been receiving e-mails from not only California residents, but from across the country suggesting alternative uses of the park. ‘Some of the comments were priceless,’ Rogers told the Palisadian-Post this week. ‘Turning it into a retired horse farm for famous horses, building a golf course, opening a Hollywood rehab center or a bed and breakfast.’ The granddaughter of the famous cowboy movie star whose family bequeathed the ranch to the State in 1944, Etcheverry is hoping that the state’s suggested closure will not come to pass, ‘Ruth explained that this is only a proposal and it will be followed by a process. It is not set in stone, but now it’s in the hands of the legislature, who have 45 days in which to hammer out the budget.’ Nevertheless, Etcheverry sees the need for Will Rogers Park to become more self-sustaining. ‘It seemed logical from an economic point of view,’ she said, citing the state’s $14 billion deficit. ‘We need to depend more on the community who use the parks. We want to do everything we can to keep it open. We’re asking the state to give us five years to get our gift shop and visitors bureau open and to get our foundation in place so we can hold some fundraisers.’ Palisades historian and Will Rogers biographer Randy Young is not so generous. He challenges the state to reconsider the criteria for state parks. ‘There are only three parks in the state that make enough money to support themselves,’ he says, citing the Railroad Museum in Sacramento, Hearst Castle and Asilomar, all of which have huge marketing budgets. ‘We must ask ourselves whether these are parks or outlets for Wal-Mart? Do we think of parks as we do a retail establishment?’ Furthermore, Young sees no savings in closing Will Rogers. Citing an already downsized staff, he suggests that the fulltime staff will not be fired, just shifted to another park. ‘The only people who would lose their jobs would be the seasonal workers.’ Both Young and Rogers see a big liability in closing the 160-acre park. ‘How could they even secure it?’ Etcheverry asks. ‘There is a high attendance of walk-in users. And often there is nobody sitting in the kiosk to collect the parking fee, and the honor system is not completely reliable. ‘If the doors close, it will revert to the family,’ Etcheverry added. ‘It’s not the kind of park that you can close, because the key word is maintenance. State Parks still has to hold up its part of the deal. They are responsible for maintenance.’ With funding in place for the visitors center ($300,000) and the $5-million recent state expenditure on upgrading the grounds, restoring the historic ranch house and delayed maintenance, Etcheverry is hoping that the state will give the family time to generate more income. ‘My concern is that even if there is a quick fix this year, what happens next year and in the future? ‘We’re sitting tight and moving forward with plans we have. We never thought that we would have to take it back. We’re doing everything we can to keep it open.’
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