San Bernardino County Director of Regional Parks Beahta Davis stands near the Prado Regional Park boat dock that she wants to replace on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

By Sandra Emerson |

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When Beahta Davis first toured San Bernardino County’s parks, she saw what she’s liked about parks since her teenage years in Michigan — camping, fishing and their ties to local history.

“Everything about each one of these parks that I have, whether I’m talking about the trail, whether I’m talking about the preserve — any of the parks, speaks to why I fell in love with this profession in the first place,” said Davis, the county’s regional parks director. “It makes perfect sense that I’m here.”

Since joining the county in 2017, Davis and her team have been tackling a backlog of repairs and hiring more staff at the county’s regional parks, which were recently scrutinized by the county’s civil grand jury.

In June, the grand jury released the results of its investigation into the county’s park system.

The grand jury started looking at the parks after the pool at Cucamonga-Guasti Regional Park in Ontario was closed because it was leaking and after a dredging and dam project at Lake Gregory drew criticism from area residents for taking too long.

Jurors found leaky roofs and broken picnic benches at Calico Ghost Town, the need for a new boat dock at Lake Gregory, unmaintained bathrooms, electrical issues and other deferred repairs in county parks.

They saw issues with park management, from an outdated policy manual to a need for more staff and training. Park staffing dropped 33% from 2010 to 2019, with the biggest cut being in park maintenance employees, the report said.

The system has been “subjected to a substantial amount of neglect over the past several years,” the report stated. “It has only been within the past year that the San Bernardino County Regional parks implemented a meaningful attempt to correct those issues.”

The 19-member civil grand jury serves as an independent investigative body that looks into all aspects of the county, including cities and special districts. It releases its findings and recommendations in an annual report, to which the county later responds.

While San Bernardino County officials agree its parks need repairs and improvements in staffing, they contend many such efforts are underway or planned in the near future.

Some of the work began in 2018, while several projects are set for later this year and in 2020, the county’s response to the grand jury report states.

Under Davis’ watch, the park system has hired more parks workers, including lifeguards; strengthened training; streamlined how park employees complete tasks and started making repairs cited by the grand jury.

Some of the upgrades include:

  • Fixing roofs and picnic tables at Calico Ghost Town in Yermo
  • Applying for state grant money to improve and renovate amenities at Mojave Narrows in Victorville
  • Replacing the pool at Cucamonga-Guasti by summer
  • Approval by county supervisors of a boat dock project at Lake Gregory early next year
  • A Lake Gregory management plan will also include removing sediment and debris from the lake bottom

Parks went several years without an experienced parks leader after the director retired and an executive from another department filled in, county spokesman David Wert said.

The goal for the park system is to be as self-supportive as possible, he said, but it still requires help from the general fund.

This year, about $2 million of the parks’ $18 million budget is from the general fund, which pays for basic county services.

During the recession years, however, those general fund dollars were limited.

“Combining those two things probably got us into the situation that Beahta walked into,” Wert said. “She quickly started turning things around, so we’re in a real good place right now.”

The public knows there’s an independent body looking at what the county is doing, Wert said.

“If we’re not doing something that they think we ought to be doing, they will call us on it,” he said. “We take the recommendations seriously. Together, at the end of the day we’re going to end up with a better parks system.”

Davis said the department will continue focusing on repairs, filling vacancies and “making sure that those parks are ready to go each and every day for anybody that would like to use them.”

Davis said the county’s 10-park system, which stretches from Prado in Chino to Moabi 250 miles away in Needles, is more like a state system because of its size. Calico, which sees many tourists from outside the country, and Yucaipa, which has a lagoon and beach area, are two of the most popular parks, Davis said.

San Bernardino County parks stay busy year round thanks to California’s weather, unlike in Baltimore County, Maryland, where Davis spent much of her parks and recreation career.

Davis started working in the parks system as a lifeguard for a residential camp in Michigan, where she met her husband. When the San Bernardino County job opened, she was not interested, but during a conversation with a county official, she said something clicked.

Davis, who has four grown children, and her husband moved to the Town of Yucca Valley, where they enjoy starry skies and nearby wildlife.

“Everything about my life, personal and professional, starts at parks,” she said.