Twenty-four-year-old Cyd Bernstein grew up on an apple farm in Yorkville, one of four tiny towns in the mostly-rural Anderson Valley. She can't recall a time when Hendy Woods wasn't part of her life.
"I grew up coming here for birthday parties, for school events," Bernstein says. "When I was older we would come here and run during sports seasons."
She left for a while; to attend UC Berkeley and travel the world. But she's recently returned to the Anderson Valley, and to Hendy Woods.
"As I'm getting older I come here and I bring family members when they're visiting, and I also just come here for peace of mind. To walk in the grove is to feel peaceful."
Bernstein says this park, with its wide, curving trails through old growth redwoods, its popular swimming hole and picnic area, is where locals go to take a walk and to gather. But Hendy Woods is more than just a nice picnic spot. Erica Lemons, the manager of nearby Lemons' Philo Market, says the park is important for her business.
"A lot of the campers trade with us, the park employees trade with us," Lemons says.
Lemons' family has owned the market for thirty years, long enough to see the economy of the Anderson Valley change from logging to tourism.
"There's just not as much industry here as there used to be," she says. "We rely a lot on the tourist trade and when you take away something like Hendy Woods, you put a huge cut in what we can do here."
Hendy Woods State Park At a Glance
By the Numbers
- 49,712 visitors in FY 2009-10
- A popular park for camping, 77 percent of visitors to the park stayed overnight.
- Attendance grew 170 percent during five years
"Every park is important, however there's no question some parks are more important to the economic life of their community."
— Kathy Bailey
Figures from the Parks Department show that Hendy Woods gets nearly 50,000 visits a year and the vast majority are campers. Kathy Bailey, a board member of the Anderson Valley Chamber of Commerce says, those visitors spend money in the Anderson Valley: they stop in Lemons' market, eat at nearby restaurants, go wine-tasting.
"We without a doubt raise a lot of taxes here and send them off to Sacramento," she says. "Every park is important, however there's no question some parks are more important to the economic life of their community."
And, Bailey points out, that money doesn't just stay in the Anderson Valley. Taxes also go to the state.
"I have yet to find any credible suggestion that closing the park will actually save money if you look at it from the point of view that they really hopefully should be looking at it from, which is revenue to the general fund," Bailey says.
But that's not how the state sees it, according to Ruth Coleman, the director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
"It is unfortunate that we're having an impact on the local economy. And we know that we are important to the local economy," Coleman says. "But the fact that we are a net generator of tax dollars does not come into our budget. We don't benefit from that, so it wasn't one of the elements that we could really consider."
In other words, the fact that Hendy Woods brings money to local businesses, which in turn send taxes to Sacramento, doesn't do anything for the parks budget, which has been cut by $22 million.
In picking which parks to close, officials considered things like how many people visit and how much they pay to get in. By those measures, Hendy Woods was never going to top Hearst Castle, or even rival a state beach in San Diego. But the park had another strike against it: its part of a cluster of parks in the same area, that all share staff.
"So if we're going to have to sweep staff in order to save money, then you're not going to have anybody there to be able to operate that range of parks," says Coleman. "So Mendocino is particularly hampered by the fact that you have a number of parks that are close to each other."
Of the 70 state parks on the original closure list, eight of them are in Mendocino County.
Last fall, Anderson Valley residents began to get organized. While Occupy protests were raging in Oakland and other parts of the country, Cyd Bernstein and some of her friends decided to "Occupy Hendy Woods."
A couple of hundred people marched through the redwood groves. They held yoga classes, bird watching sessions and sang songs around the campfire. With help from the local Chamber of Commerce, they formed the Hendy Woods Community, a non-profit that could help keep the park open, by supplying volunteers and raising money.
They've proposed the idea to the state parks department and expect to hear back by mid-April.
On the Rocks