Coastside State Parks Association (CSPA) is a private, nonprofit, charitable corporation whose purpose is to raise funds to promote educational and interpretive programs in California State Parks and Beaches along the Pacific coast of San Mateo County. CSPA operates under the Cooperating Association program within State Parks.

CSPA’s Mission: “to inspire public appreciation and stewardship of the natural resources and cultural heritage of the San Mateo Coast, in partnership with California State Parks.”

CSPA provides funding for programs and projects that enrich visitors’ experiences, that protect natural resources, and that augment the state’s budget. Examples are funding for volunteer docent programs, interpretive exhibits and signs, youth programs, habitat restoration, and facilities improvements, particularly for accessibility. For a more complete description, see the menu section under What We Do.

CSPA raises funds for parks through four principal channels: (1) contributions from individuals and corporations, (2) fund-raising events, (3) grants, and (4) sales in park stores and of firewood in campgrounds. Contributions are fully tax-deductible when no goods or services are provided in exchange. Most of the costs of tickets to fund-raising events are also deductible.

Significantly, money raised by CSPA, including net revenue from the stores, are returned to local state parks, not to a general fund in Sacramento.

CSPA was founded in 1990, under the name San Mateo Coast Natural History Association (SMCNHA), as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, which it remains. CSPA’s name was legally changed in 2013.

CSPA is a Cooperating Association

Since its founding, CSPA has been a Cooperating Association with California State Parks. In fact, CSPA was founded for that express purpose.

The California State Parks Cooperating Association Program was initiated by the state in 1971. Today there are approximately 90 cooperating associations statewide, each of which supports one or more of California’s 280 state parks.

CSPA is unusual in that it supports 15 state beaches, parks and park units, while the vast majority of cooperating associations support 3 or fewer parks and, in most cases, just 1. This gives CSPA the opportunity to support both major and smaller parks and beaches along 36 miles of scenic coastline from Gray Whale Cove State Beach in the north to Año Nuevo State Park in the south.

Each cooperating association signs a formal, standard agreement with California State Parks that governs its roles and responsibilities. With very few exceptions, cooperating associations fund programs and projects in parks but do not administer or operate them—for legal reasons, parks’ employees do. To make this relationship productive and successful, CSPA necessarily works very closely with the staff of local state parks.

One important role of cooperating associations is managing stores in selected state parks that are large enough to support a store but too small to have a concessionaire under contract to the state for that and other services, such as food and lodging. In CSPA’s case, the stores’ management personnel are employees of the cooperating association, while the stores are staffed with State Parks volunteers.