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Panel examining troubled state parks department holds first hearing

State Parks

SACRAMENTO -- An independent commission with the task of examining the future of California's troubled park system held its first public hearing on Wednesday.

The commission, called Parks Forward, was created by the Legislature in the wake of an accounting scandal at the Department of Parks and Recreation last year. In addition, the department has struggled to maintain its network of 280 parks covering 1.7 million acres.

Officials said they would seek new ways to bring revenue and visitors to parks while maintaining their natural beauty.

"There is nothing more Californian than our parks," said commission co-chair Lance Conn. "We hold these treasurers in trust for future generations."

The commission's report is due late next year, and it will be up to  lawmakers and the governor to decide whether to implement any recommendations. Former state Sen. Christine Kehoe, the second co-chair, hinted at the challenge of making sure the report isn't shelved.

"We need to persuade, maybe even sell, our good ideas," she said.

The lack of updated technology at the parks department was one of the first challenges highlighted during Wednesday's meeting. For example, employees still use paper time cards and lack adequate software to map out budgets.

"We've been given a job to do, but we haven't been given the tools to do it," said Jeremy McReynolds, vice president of the California State Park Peace Office Management Assn.

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Twitter: @chrismegerian

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