Austin Keegan kneels on a tiny footbridge on Garrapata State Park’s Rocky Ridge Trail and replaces a damaged plank with pre-cut lumber from home. “It’s just basic maintenance,” he says. “It needs to be done.”

His pal David Thiermann, carrying a garbage-pickup stick and a plastic bag, scans for litter and dog poop while Keegan drills.

“Nice service, guys!” chirps a toned runner waiting to cross the bridge. Then he asks what’s up with the “FOG” baseball caps on the volunteers’ heads.

Friends of Garrapata, Thiermann explains, is a community group picking up the slack as the California Department of Parks and Recreation prepares to abandon the park. 

As they hike, Thiermann and Keegan point out signs of their work. A FOG business card is screwed into the Soberanes Canyon Trail sign, which they sanded to erase graffiti. A couple walks by with five off-leash dogs, and Keegan cheerfully tells them dogs aren’t allowed: “It really affects the quality of the trail.”

FOG isn’t an official nonprofit; it’s not even sanctioned by State Parks. It’s a loose network of about 85 park users communicating through the Friends of Garrapata Facebook page and fixing up the park on their own impulses.

I’ve long believed that when government steps in to do valuable things, it crowds out private sector (for-profit and not-for-profit) actions. The converse is that when government pulls back from doing these valuable things, the private sector steps up. Call it “crowding in.”

Because of the California state government’s large budget deficit, the government is cutting back on park services. And, as the above excerpt from an article in the Monterey County Weekly shows, volunteers are stepping in.