Cooperating Associations

Collaboration with nonprofit organizations is woven into the California State Parks culture as essential to our success. In the early 1970s, state parks were having an increasingly difficult time funding interpretive and education operations, including providing brochures and other publications to the visiting public. Meeting these basic needs sparked citizen efforts and a recognition by State Parks of the need for a cooperating associations program.

The first cooperating associations emerged in 1971 from community groups at Anza-Borrego Desert, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Bidwell Mansion. In 1972, State Parks Director William Penn Mott Jr. and various organizations worked to enact Public Resources Code (PRC) section 513, authorizing the department to enter into special relationships with nonprofit organizations. These organizations greatly expanded citizen involvement in California State Parks' interpretive and educational efforts and assisted State Parks by providing interpretive materials, especially park brochures.

From 1973 to 1989, association operations expanded beyond publication sales and fundraising. They began funding park interpretive programs.  Numerous cooperating associations have established successful interpretive programs, which have become the signature park activity. In Old Sacramento, for example, the cooperating association-sponsored train excursion rides along the American River attract visitors from around the world; the living history programs at nearby Sutter’s Fort renew public interest in this historic landmark.

In January 1, 2009, amendments to PRC 513 were signed into law. This legislation defined cooperating associations;
expanded the interpretive and educational activities allowed to be performed by cooperating associations and
permitted the sale of non-interpretive, non-educational materials and services by cooperating associations following an unsuccessful good-faith effort to obtain a concessionaire.  As a result, the visitors are able to purchase goods and services such as firewood to enhance their park experience.

Today, there are 89 cooperating associations spread throughout the state that generate nearly $14 million annually for state park programs.  Cooperating associations are also advocates for the Department and increase public support for parks. Some are raising funds to keep parks open, and a few have signed operating agreements to manage parks that were closing.  This remarkable collaboration between state parks and nonprofit organizations has served not only to improve services for visitors; it has allowed parks to survive in dire economic conditions.
To learn more about cooperating associations, click here.