Like many Jack London fans, Riccardo and Jean Peccei feel a special connection to the late author at his former Glen Ellen estate.
On a sun-dappled afternoon at Jack London State Historic Park this week, the couple, who live in London, said the grounds were as well-maintained as they've ever seen them.
"It's beautifully quiet, and the vegetation is lovely," Riccardo Peccei said.
That's positive feedback for the nonprofit group that last year entered into a historic pact with the state to assume management of the 1,400-acre park. Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of when the deal was announced.
The operating agreement was the first of its kind in California under a new law that allowed the state to negotiate with nonprofits, private concessionaires and other groups to try and keep open 70 state parks that originally were slated to shut by July 1 last year.
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park near Kenwood, Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa, Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park and Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville also were on that list. All were spared.
The question in the immediate aftermath of the celebrations was whether the groups that were granted the authority to run the parks were up to the task of doing so. Judging by things at Jack London and at Sugarloaf, which announced its own agreement with the state May 1, the answer appears to be so far, so good.
"I think it's been a good learning curve. We've been working well together," said Danita Rodriguez, the acting district superintendent for the Diablo Vista district of California State Parks.
Attendance at Jack London and Sugarloaf has been higher in the past year than when the parks were being managed by the state, according to officials with the nonprofit groups that now run the sites. Both facilities also are on track to meet operating budgets this fiscal year.
Public safety, a concern going into the new management structure, has not materialized into a significant problem. Both parks rely on local law enforcement to handle serious issues, although a state park ranger still patrols Sugarloaf during peak camping hours. The main problems have been with people allowing their dogs to run off-leash at the parks.
Richard Dale, executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, which is a member of the coalition that now runs Sugarloaf, said in terms of compliance with park rules, "people tend to be supportive when they know it's their own community trying to keep the park open."
He said there have been no significant issues with the new management instituting a ban on alcohol in the campground.
At Jack London, the only significant public safety issue was a man who collapsed of a heart ailment outside the park's boundaries. He was rescued by members of the park's volunteer Mounted Assistance Unit, said Tjiska Van Wyk, executive director of Jack London Park Partners.
"It is a great illustration of how well trained they are to deal with emergencies," Van Wyk said.
However, Rodriguez said not having peace officers assigned to the parks -- except in limited situations at Sugarloaf -- is an example of what's not working under the operating agreements.