Just a few years ago, 70 of the 280 California State Parks were slated to close due to California's budget deficit. Both the Benicia State Recreational Area (BSRA) and the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, which includes the Fisher-Hanlon House and gardens (comprising the only two State Parks in Solano County), were on the hit list. The state was in the process of measuring the windows for plywood at the Capitol, taking inventory of the furnishings inside the Fisher-Hanlon House and allowing the BSRA to be open only on a limited basis, while the paths and roadways became overgrown. The future of our City and State's treasures looked bleak.
Thankfully, the City of Benicia and the Benicia State Parks Association united in a local effort to keep the two parks open. It became a top priority of the current City Council in 2012 when determining its future strategic goals. The Council appointed myself and Mayor Patterson as council representatives; and members of City staff, to take the lead in organizing a regional effort that also included Bob and Carol Berman of the Benicia State Parks Association, Mike Alvarez, Supervisor Linda Seifert, the City of Vallejo, California State Parks, Bay Area Ridge Trail’s Harry Englebright and San Francisco Bay Trail’s Maureen Gaffney.
The committee also had legislative aides representing Senator Lois Wolk and Assembly members Susan Bonilla and Jim Frazier attend the meetings. This multi-agency partnership called itself the Solano State Parks Committee. Its formation was a major accomplishment in bringing together several layers of government and non profits, and the group was committed to keeping the parks open and making them viable within the region.
The Benicia State Recreation Area encompasses 409 acres and includes three Regional trails, five miles of foot trails and straddles the waterfront cities of Vallejo and Benicia. In 2015, 10,000 visitors took advantage of the 270 acres of tidal marshland, the Forrest Deaner Native Plant Botanic Garden, picnic facilities and fantastic fishing.
The BSRA is a regional asset with amazing potential to attract recreational tourism by linking the Bay Area Ridge Trail with the nine-county bay shorelines and ridgelines as part of the San Francisco Bay Trail.
Some important success stories that have occurred in the last few years include the AB 1478 Donor Agreement of 2013, where the State matched funds raised on behalf of the Benicia State Parks. Solano County and the City of Benicia agreed to commit $10,000 each and $4,000 was received from the City of Vallejo, generating a match of $24,000 from the State. The Donor Agreement restored everyday operations at the BSRA through June 30, 2014 and has continued to the present with the park open from 8am to sunset. Other projects included new informational signage and benches and in the summer of 2015 and the trail and road repaving. The City of Vallejo provided the equipment and staff needed to repave the Bay Trail/Ridge Trail and portions of Dillon Point Road. Support for the project's design was given by State Parks and City of Benicia staff, using funds from the State Park’s maintenance funds.
We are most fortunate to have the Benicia State Parks Association, which, from the beginning, has been the champion of both parks. The non-profit organization supports the Forrest Deaner Native Plant Botanic Garden, coordinates the coastal clean-up event and offers a weekend academy with Solano County Juvenile Probation.
Benicia Capitol State Historic Park is currently open Thursday through Sunday and during 2015, had 8,500 visitors. The Benicia State Parks Association offers regular interpretive programs and docent tours at the Capitol and Fisher-Hanlon House. The organization has also funded and managed irrigation and upgrades to the Hanlon House as well as developed interpretive signage with help from Solano County and the California State Parks Foundation. It also hosts the popular Capitol Speaker Series and special events during the holidays.
Currently the state is doing a Historic Structure Report to identify the needs for both the Capitol building and the Fisher-Hanlon House. This important document will be the blueprint to restore the two buildings to their stately beauty. The Solano State Parks Committee will work with the State Parks Transformation Team and Partnership Committee to incorporate the recommendations from the Parks Forward Report.
The Solano State Parks Committee's mission for 2016 is to continue to build on the successes of the last few years in order to preserve the past for the next generation.