One of the best things about Proposition 68 is that it can help communities revive deteriorating parks. Here in Kern County, we’re hoping that it will help Hart Memorial Park (commonly called Hart Park) regain its title as the gem of Kern County parks.
Located just north of Bakersfield, the 370-acre Hart Park contains two lakes and three canals. It was named after County Supervisor John Hart, who spearheaded its creation. Constructed between 1921 and 1936, it is the oldest section of the Kern River County Park. Hart Park was a gem: variety of public uses and amenities. Because of its size and location, it is the most popular birding site in the area.
The park began to decline in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Buildings, especially restrooms, were neglected and fell into disrepair. Trash began to become a major eyesore. Maintenance costs rose and, since funding for the park came out of the county’s general fund, reduced tax revenues meant less money spent on the park. In January 2017, the park commission recommended to the Board of Supervisors that a daily parking fee be approved to address the funding shortfall. There had never been a fee charged for it use.
Many residents opposed the fee and made presentations to explain their opposition. Upon hearing this voiced opposition, the board decided not to enact the fee. It directed that three public meetings occur at which residents could offer advice to what should be the future appearance of and facilities in the park. The best attended meeting, with over 150 residents, was in Lamont, a Hispanic community. Many of the residents work in the fields. Almost all the people there were Latinos and users of the park. On holidays, especially Easter, and weekends, the park is used by people from communities with no local parks. Hart Park is seen as a refuge, a place for family activities.
Last September, after the public input was recorded, the county retained a park planning consultant firm to devise a five-year plan for the park. The plan should be ready by this September. Proposition 68 funds would greatly assist in making both the much-needed repair of facilities and additional amenities for park users. Bringing back the Hart Park that we remember and loved so much would be a tremendous service to this entire community.
Harry Love is the Conservation Chair for the Kern Audubon Society.