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Donors Who Helped Save Henry Coe Park Want Money Back From State

MORGAN HILL (CBS 5) -- The State of California is refusing to refund a group that pledged to keep a Bay Area park open, despite an investigation revealing the State Parks Department was sitting on millions in hidden funds.

"The most aggravating thing for me is that we worked like the very devil for more than a year to raise enough money to keep the park open for three years, and then suddenly discover that it's not needed," Winslow Briggs said.

Briggs, a retired Stanford University professor, and his wife Ann donated their time and money to keep their beloved Henry Coe State Park in Santa Clara County from closing due to budget cuts.

"As a family, about $5,000," Ann Briggs said.

Their Coe Park Preservation Fund became a statewide model, with the State Senate and Assembly commending them for raising $350,000. Then it was discovered the California Parks Department had a stash of $54 million hidden in its own budget.

"If they didn't know, shame on them. If they did know, shame on them," Winslow Briggs said.

It was more than enough to keep Henry Coe and other state parks open.

"As a donor, I just felt as duped as everyone else," Ann Briggs said.

The $54 million was found after the preservation fund wrote a check to the state for $279,000. Now, the volunteers want that money back.

"I think we should write to all the donors and offer their money back because it was gotten under false pretenses," Ann Briggs said.

So far, the state is refusing. "There is no mechanism right now in state law to have us refund money to the Coe Foundation. We've reached out to them. We'd like to have a conversation with them about that. We would like to keep that partnership alive," said Richard Stapler of the California Natural Resources Agency.

Winslow Briggs refutes Stapler's statement. "They have never tried to reach us and there hasn't been any email contact either," he said.

The Briggs said the damage is done in trust and money. Another $20 million in pledges the fund had secured is evaporating.

"We had big donors pretty well lined up. Now, we don't have them anymore as a result of this fiasco," Winslow Briggs said.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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