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State Parks Director Optimistic About His New Job

Torrey Pines State Park
Patty Lane/KPBS
Torrey Pines State Park

Major General Anthony Jackson says it was a combination of things that led him to take the job as California's new State Parks Director. And he spoke to KPBS "Morning Edition's" Deb Welsh about his decision.

Q. What was it? The fact that you were recently retired from the Marines; or had logged thousands of miles visiting California's parks in an R-V you purchased for yourself as a retirement gift; or was it that you were familiar with the "powers that be" in Sacramento? How did it all come about?

A. The Secretary of Natural Resources, John Laird, called me in July after all the headlines broke about some of the events that put the Parks and Recreation Department on the front page of the newspapers. I was in Washington, D.C. doing some work when he asked if I'd be interested in the job. He said he thought with the kind of leadership I had to have to become a Marine Corps General Officer in command of Marine Corps Installations West was the kind of leadership Parks and Recreation would need.

Q. Did you say "yes" immediately or did you say you needed some time to think it over?

Major General Anthony Jackson
Major General Anthony Jackson

A. No, I did not say "yes" immediately. I said that it was an honor to be considered. And then the second thing I said was that I was going to go home and talk to my wife. I consulted her and she said if I wanted to do it, that's the kind of thing she could see me doing. So, she gave an "aye" vote and I came back to John and told him I'd take the job.

Q. Obviously, you have experience in a leadership position. What would you say your approach to management will be in the department?

A. We have a mission first. And that is, we're the caretakers of California's parks and recreation system. But like I told my staff yesterday, "Mission first, but people always." So my job, as much, is to take care of the people of parks and recreation. And my philosophy is if you're taking care of them, they'll take care of the mission in such a way the people of California will regain trust in the park system. We'll then have the best, if we don't already, have the best park system in the United States.

Q. At one point during the financial saga with the park system's fund shortage, and it looked like some of the parks were going to have to be closed, groups came forward with donations and contributions that allowed parks to continue operating. Do you have plans to continue accepting those kinds of contributions on behalf of the parks?

A. It's incredible what the public does to keep the parks open. And I know that they stepped up. I remember when Palomar Mountain was rumored to be on the list and I had just visited Palomar Mountain while still enjoying my R-V when one of the rangers told me it was going to be closed. Within weeks I was reading in the newspaper where people who enjoy Palomar Mountain had raised enough money to sustain it. So, those kinds of efforts we encourage. The legislature, however, says we still have to find ways to continue to raise funds to make parks more viable so none of them have to be closed.

Q. Environmentalists are optimistic that you'll be able to secure funding for the parks, the beaches and even some historic sites. And you, obviously, are optimistic that you will be able to do that as well.

A. Coming to the table with optimism is a benefit, actually. As I've walked around the department over the last few days, I've found that people are smiling and anxious to move past all the bad news that came out in the spring and the summer. So, one of our key watchwords is to move "forward."