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We’re losing access to our history

POSTED January 26, 2010 9:55 p.m.
I was lucky enough to spend Saturday, the only sunny day this week, wandering up and down the coast of Monterey Bay. I took in the sights and sounds of Cannery Row in Monterey, I watched seals play at the Santa Cruz Municipal Warf, and I ate far too much seafood in Capitola.
The only downside to my vacation was the lack of funding for state historic parks in the area. I visited Monterey State Historic Park, eager to see the inside of some of California’s first European buildings. I peeked through the window of the Custom House, and reached for the door in anticipation. To my disappointment, however, it was locked. I looked more closely at the door and saw a sign that read “due to state budget cuts, free public tours of historic buildings and the Monterey Walking Tours have been canceled until further notice.”
Historic sites that were preserved for all Californians to visit free of charge are now closed due to California State Parks budget cuts. Every historic building in the Monterey area, it seems, has been closed until further notice.
I decided to try the old mission buildings in Santa Cruz on Sunday, I had heard that those were still open.
The reproduction of Santa Cruz Mission was open, but the only original building was, you guessed it, closed due to state budget cuts. The windows, doors and gates were all closed. I only managed to get a glimpse of the courtyard by standing on my tip-toes and looking over the gate. They operate only limited hours now, and only on Friday and Saturday. I wasn’t the only one disappointed at the locked gates of the original mission building. A third grader from a local elementary school was unable to take photos for her class project on the Spanish missions. She had to settle for interviewing the gift shop attendant instead.
School children across California are assigned Spanish mission related projects. It is part of the California State Standard that they should learn about the Spanish origins of our state, and the missions play a huge role in that education. Closing the sites hurts the public’s knowledge about the state’s heritage, and it takes away many of the free and educational tourist attractions the state has to offer.
Columbia State Historic Park is still open to the public on weekends and during the summer, when it gets the most visitors. A large part of the park’s funding comes from concession licenses sold to the restaurants and shops that operate in historic Columbia. I started to imagine the funding possibilities that a concession license in Monterey State Historic Park could bring. There were hundreds of people at Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Warf that afternoon. The area is well visited, even in winter.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget for 2010 would fully fund state parks, but only through allowing oil drilling off of the Santa Barbara coast. Isn’t there an easier solution to the funding problem for state historic parks? Couldn’t Monterey State Historic Park sell concession licenses, the way Columbia does? I’m sure some history buffs out there would jump at the chance to sell historically accurate goods out of the Custom House. Children would love the opportunity to buy a bottle of root-beer from the bar at the state’s first theater.
The state might be in a tight place with its budget, but state historical parks could be self-sustaining. Allowing concessions at all state historic parks would keep the sites open and free to the public, and it would avoid the risk of further environmental damage that oil drilling could cause to the Santa Barbara coast.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail agoodwin@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.

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