In 2011 and 2012, the state of California faced massive budget cuts. With no other apparent option, decisions were made to close a vast number of California’s beloved state parks, including, much to the dismay of school children in the area, South Yuba River State Park. How the Kids Saved the Parks is a documentary that details what happened next: how a group of elementary school-aged kids refused to accept adults’ explanation that there was no alternative, and how together, they beat the odds to save one of the community’s most treasured natural areas.

When the local kids who enjoy visiting South Yuba River Park found out that the state was closing the park that they frequented for educational field trips, and for lazy days of swimming in the summer, they were distraught. But instead of bemoaning the fact and feeling defeated, they joined forces and got organized, creating a groundswell of community activism that eventually landed them at the California State Capitol.

“Activism can be used for big and small things. We got as many people as we could,” fifth-grader Alexandra Zetterberg explained. “Then we organized. We put a Mobile Media Action Team together. We got to have an audience with [California Secretary for Natural Resources] John Laird’s office. We explained our reasons why we didn’t think the parks should close. In the end, they gave in to our wishes and we came away triumphant because we pulled together and made a difference.” The kids, all students at the Grass Valley Charter School, gathered more than 10,000 petition signatures urging action to keep the park open.

Seeing how dearly the community cared about the Park, the State came up with an alternative: the Nevada County Board of Supervisors approved a State Parks’ proposed Revenue Generation Parking Plan that allowed for $3-$5 entrance fees to be collected at the park for the first time.

“The new fees are not expected to be enough to totally close the gap needed for full operations of the park,” said Acting Sierra District Superintendent Matt Green. “But this overwhelming and greatly appreciated support from the community is a start that will keep the park open.”

South Yuba River Park, with its sparkling clear water and family-friendly hiking trails is a local favorite. Now, the kids that loved to splash and jump into its cooling currents will have the satisfaction of knowing that they helped keep it open for all to enjoy.

The film, How the Kids Saved The Parks, was a winner at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, and recently enjoyed a showing at the Nevada Theatre. You can watch the first 15 minutes of the film here.

Image via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library