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State parks worth fighting for
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Whenever I travel back to my hometown in Indiana, the first thing I notice as the airplane makes its decent into Indianapolis is the vast swath of green that seems to cover the entire state. You don’t realize how few trees actually grow naturally in California’s Central Valley until you see an aerial view of Midwest lushness.

Tree climbing is a mandated childhood activity in Indiana and no house has fewer than three trees growing in the back yard. (Well … the previous statement may be factually untrue, but the spirit of it certainly prevails.)

Recently, I was becoming homesick for the sight of Indiana trees and even began to write really bad poetry expressing my arbor ardor. My husband, in an effort to end my incessant ode to trees soliloquies, decided to do something about it.

Before I knew it we were packed into the car and headed east. I wasn’t quite sure what he had in mind, but I was pretty confidant he didn’t plan to drive all the way to Indiana and just leave me by the roadside.

It was a pleasant surprise an hour later when we arrived at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. I believe my husband’s plan was to show me that even though the Valley may lack a few trees, just a few miles away grew the largest trees in the world.

We spent the day casually walking among trees that were around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I was amazed at the beauty and awed by the natural wonders that have survived the ages — despite a major highway transporting hundreds of vehicles just a few miles away.

Walking among the big trees, my everyday stresses at work and home seemed miniscule compared to the behemoths in front of me that had to endure numerous fires, lightning storms, droughts, floods and — most corruptive of all  — human greed, to maintain their dominance in the Sierra mountainside.

Along with getting my “tree fix,” the trip to Calaveras Big Trees State Park made me realize how important it is to conserve the natural wonders around us. A thousand years from now when civilization as we know it has — hopefully — evolved those giant sequoias will still be around marking time with a few feet of growth. 

The best part about Big Trees State Park is its accessibility. Not only is it within driving distance of most Valley towns, but the trails leading to the park’s namesake are on clearly marked walkways with benches along the way for those who need extra time and rest.

I have two cousins who enjoy nothing more than throwing a pack on their backs and getting lost in the Sierras for weeks at a time. Great for them — not for me.  I appreciate nature, but I also enjoy clean restrooms and a snack bar within walking distance.

Making nature available to families, school groups and anyone who wants to experience it helps to create a sense of where we’ve been as a society and where we’re going. I think kids nowadays forget sometimes that every convenience or technology we enjoy today was invented by someone who was tired of using their own sweat to get the job done. Thinking about how people went from living in huts made out of tree bark to fabricated houses with air conditioning and indoor plumbing is amazing and inspiring. We need to fight to keep our past alive and well so future generations can be inspired.

This is a fight many in California have taken up over the years. Recent revelations, however, may test residents’ convictions on preserving state parks.

An independent audit of the California State Parks Department is currently underway to examine how and why nearly $54 million in two special funds went unreported even as budget cuts were threatening to close 70 parks.

This revelation of blatant state funds mismanagement has some legislators up in arms about other potential “hidden pots of cash.” Other legislators fear this scandal will dissuade voters from passing special taxes to support state parks in the future. I hope that both these fears come to be unfounded.

I, for one, am tired of a few bad apples spoiling the barrel. Find those responsible for defrauding taxpayers and make them pay; but don’t throw away thousands of years of history in our state parks just because a few couldn’t manage public funds.