McGrath State Beach, along with its many visitors and substantial infrastructure challenges, has many friends.

At its recent annual gala, the California State Parks Foundation presented its Golden Poppy Award to dedicated supporters of the park, who overcame substantial obstacles and saved it from closure. Honorees included the City of Oxnard, County of Ventura and businessman Peter Mullin and his Mullin Automotive Museum.

In presenting the award, Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, made it clear that saving McGrath State Beach was a great example of pragmatic action and the passion that the public has for California State Parks.

I like this park a lot and for me the story of how this park was saved is an intriguing one, and sheds light on the past, present and future of the California State Park system.

Birdwatchers flock to McGrath State Beach, one of the great bird-watching spots on the California coast.
Birdwatchers flock to McGrath State Beach, one of the great bird-watching spots on the California coast.

McGrath State Beach in Ventura County gets a lot of use. About 130,000 visitors a year come to camp, surf, fish, hike and bird-watch.

And McGrath State Beach has had, and still has, a lot of challenges. McGrath was scheduled to close down in 2011 due to lack of funds to fix its sewer line. At the time, it was believed that the California State Parks system lacked the money ($500,000) for the repair bill, and the park was added to the now infamous park closure list of about 70 parks.

However, local park-goers, along with elected officials from the city of Oxnard, the County of Ventura and State Assemblyman Das William rallied to support McGrath State Beach, as did businessman Peter Mullin, who spearheaded private sector efforts. Regional and statewide efforts were a huge success.

However, it was later discovered that state park administrators in Sacramento had squirreled away millions in undisclosed accounts and, while the department was crying poor, it actually had funds to help keep parks open and make some crucial repairs.

Say what?!

With the revelations of State Parks financial mismanagement came widespread public fury, particularly from park supporters who had contributed much time and money to keeping parks open statewide and from those working to save a particular park near and dear to them. The actual amount of money kept from public view turned out to be smaller than first reported and there was no evidence it was used to bad purpose; nevertheless, appearance can be reality, and park supporters were dismayed and infuriated at this bad bookkeeping and bad behavior.

McGrath State Beach’s threatened closure for lack of funds proved to be a particularly egregious example of the lack of disclosure from the parks department in Sacramento.

On a more positive note, there’s a new parks director, Major General Anthony L. Jackson, who has pledged to cleanup the department’s finances, and bring back transparency and accountability to California State Parks.

As for McGrath State Beach, it faces a new challenge: flooding. It was a very dry year in Southern California and the Santa Clara River lacked the flow necessary to knock out the sand berms that build up at its mouth. Consequently the river has overflowed its low banks and flooded the park, which is now closed.

Optimist that I am, I have no doubt park supporters, this time in cooperation with California State Parks, will come up with a solution and re-open this popular park.

In the meantime, keep up with efforts to save the park on Facebook: Save McGrath State Beach.

And soon as the park reopens, take a hike.