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Five years later: The deal that saved Jack London Park

Posted on June 16, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun


Five years ago, Jack London State Historic Park was one of 70 state parks threatened with closure — the state was strapped for cash, and the parks system was facing a $22 million deficit. But since then, when the nonprofit consortium Jack London Park Partners took over operations, the Glen Ellen facility has thrived.

Attendance at the park is up by more than 50 percent, 30 miles of trail have been restored, donations and volunteer numbers are up, and ambitious natural resource programs are underway.

Meanwhile the Broadway Under the Stars performance series has become a signature feature of the park, gaining national attention. It opens its sixth season on June 16.

Nearly 400,000 people have visited the park since the new management team took over. Now the park is run at no cost to taxpayers; in fact, it garners a small surplus each year that is dedicated to capital improvements.

“It is very rewarding to see so many people every day enjoying the Park,” said Executive Director Tjiska Van Wyk. “Our emphasis is on creating as many appealing and accessible ways for everyone to experience this special place.”

No longer part of a statewide bureaucracy, JLPP can focus on bettering the Park and attracting more visitors. Events have broadened from docent hikes to exercise programs poetry and story-telling, family outings and much more.

winery-ruin“We are constantly evaluating new initiatives to determine what makes a self-sustaining management model,” Van Wyk said. “As Jack London said. ‘I will make mistakes a many but watch my dreams come true.’ We stay focused to remain viable and successful while preserving Park access for all future generations.”

The precedent setting public-private partnership between JLPP and California State Parks was made possible by legislation authored by then-Assemblyman Jared Huffman.

In response to the imminent closing of the Park in 2011, dedicated members of the JLPP community — passionate about preserving the park as both an important natural resource as well as a major historical and cultural one — became the first organization to take over day-to-day operations of a state park.

JLPP had presented a plan to keep the park open at least 36 hours a week, and handle all daily maintenance, visitors services, volunteer staffing, protection of natural resources and interpretation. The plan was approved in May of 2012.

“Fueled by the tireless efforts and dedicated commitment of so many people, we have been able to keep Jack London State Historic Park open and thriving 364 days a year for the five years since we first learned the Park was in danger of being closed,” said Lynne Deegan-McGraw, JLPP board president.

The novel partnership is now a model for other communities.

jlupper“Jack London Partners have succeeded beyond all expectations and imaginations in keeping open our beloved park,” said First District County Supervisor Susan Gorin. “This is a keystone property on Sonoma Mountain, and the efforts of JLPP have introduced so many people from our region, nation and the world to the history and innovation of Jack and Charmian London.”

The natural beauty of the park, and the history and culture of Jack London himself, still a worldwide literary figure 100 years after his death, continue to give the park a unique appeal.

“With its 1,400 acres of vast scenery, trails and wildlife, the park is certainly an essential part of Northern California’s landscape,” Deegan-McGraw said. “But as the home of writer, innovator, sustainable farmer and American adventurer Jack London, the Park’s significance as a museum and cultural landmark cannot be underestimated.”

The London File

  • Jack London Park Partners operates the Park at no cost to taxpayers.
  • In 2012 donations totaled $400,000. In 2016 fundraising efforts brought in $953,000 not including the $450,000 raised to date for a separate capital campaign towards new exhibits in the House of Happy Walls.
  • Attendance at the Park is up by more than 50 percent.
  • 85% of visitors polled rate their Park experience as “excellent,” the highest score possible.
  • The number of volunteers at the Park has nearly quadrupled since 2012, to 400 active volunteers.
  • Actively in process: the institution of various natural resource projects like restoration of historic orchard, invasive species removal, creation of defensible space to reduce risk of wildfire.
  • The Broadway Under the Stars summer concert series has brought 81,000 visitors to the Park and resulted in nearly $300,000 donated to Park operations.
  • Thirty miles of trails have been restored to make them safe and accessible for hikers, cyclists and horseback riders.
  •  Significant restoration of the winery ruins (now voted one of the best outdoor venue in the West by USAToday)
  • Production and installation of state-of-the-art exhibits in park’s museum, House of Happy Walls in 2018


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