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Monday, October 19, 2009

Service Reductions in Russian River State Parks

By Michele Luna, Executive Director

While our Governor has said he will not close any State Parks, the reality is that we are going to see partial and seasonal closures, closed restrooms, new iron rangers for fee collection where they haven’t been before and the bottom line is that the millions of visitors who come to Sonoma County year-round to visit our State Parks will not have access to all that our parks have to offer in the coming months.

As most of you who have been following the news articles know, things change rapidly and our local State Park District has again been asked to rework their proposal as to how they can sustain this latest round of cuts. Originally, most of the cuts were going to be sustained by closing Fort Ross due to the cost of operating the park’s expensive water system. Now, without closing the Fort, those costs have to be distributed throughout the rest of the District, which is not an easy task.

As of this writing this is what I can report in regards to proposed service reductions:
• Beginning November 1st, the Fort Ross Visitor Center and Fort compound will be closed Monday through Thursday, open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Reef Campground and day use area will be closed for additional months then normal.
• Salt Point will have several day use closures for several months.
• Very soon, Pomo Canyon Campground and Willow Creek Environmental Campgrounds will be closed for additional months then normal.
• Also, very soon and for the first time, Bull Frog Pond Campground and the Back Country campsites in Austin Creek State Recreation Area will be closed for some months.
• There will be very limited or no seasonal park aids to staff the entrance stations at Armstrong Redwoods and Sonoma Coast locations.
• Day-use fee collection ($5 per vehicle) will begin for parking in the front parking lot by the Visitor Center at Armstrong Redwoods and some day use areas in Sonoma Coast State Park.
• The Jenner Visitor Center and the restroom in the boat launch area will be closed for at least 7 months.
• Other restrooms will be closed along Sonoma Coast, including south Goat Rock and Blind Beach at Sonoma Coast State Park.

How will this affect tourism and access to our State Parks? Well, everyone needs to use a restroom multiple times a day and while traveling they purposely stop along their route in search of restrooms. One of our docents, Lois Benson, wrote a letter to the PD Editor recently expressing concern about this very issue. People may have no choice but to pull off the road and find a secluded area to relieve themselves, thus fouling our beaches.

What are we doing about this?
The Fort Ross Interpretive Association is working on ways to restore services at the Fort and Salt Point. Stewards is working on the following ways to restore services at Armstrong Redwoods and Sonoma Coast.
• We have contacted businesses and groups in Jenner asking for help in raising the $5,000 needed to keep the Visitor Center and restroom open for the next 7 months.
• We will coordinate the staffing of the entrance station at Armstrong Redwoods during the week by trained Armstrong Redwoods/Austin Creek docents to help encourage park visitors to pay their fees.
• We will provide portable restrooms at Pomo Canyon Campground as needed so we can continue to provide environmental education programs for school groups who participate in our Watershed Education and Environmental Living Programs.
• We will support fee collection through the installation of iron rangers at beach locations on Sonoma Coast and at Armstrong Redwoods.
• We will help State Parks in any way asked to get us through this very difficult budget cycle.
• Most importantly, we will coordinate the local effort in Sonoma County to get the State Park Access Pass on the ballot in November of 2010.

State Park Access Pass
You have heard about the State Park Access Pass, an annual $15 surcharge on our vehicle license fee in exchange for free day use in our State Parks, for the past couple years. Since we could not get the legislature to pass this proposal in the current budget we will now need to see if we can get this measure on the ballot in November of 2010. A number of our largest partner organizations, including the California State Parks Foundation, are looking at the feasibility of winning such a ballot measure. Despite the overwhelming support that we have received from our constituents and supporters, there are many people in California that are opposed to tax increases of any kind, noting that Californians pay the highest taxes in the nation. We don’t see this as a tax increase in the same way as others since the people of California would be receiving a huge benefit for paying this fee. Being able to access our parks for free and providing the funding needed to adequately fund them and even address the 1.2 billion dollars in deferred maintenance would allow State Park to exist independent of any general fund allocation, making the park system sustainable into the future. Many other states have been successful in providing for their parks in this way and we hope Californians will see their way clear to approve such a win win solution.

If it is decided that we should move forward with the ballot measure we will need to do the following in the months ahead.
• In November, we will need to start collecting over a million signatures to qualify the required number for putting the measure on the ballot.
• Then we will need to raise the funding needed to run a robust campaign to get California voters to vote YES.

In order for us to be successful in these efforts we need your monetary and volunteer support. Please support us with a donation if you can.

Ways for you to Help Stewards
• Support our Quilt drawing with a donation online or at the Annual Membership Meeting on October 24, 2009. The drawing will take place at the Annual Volunteer Celebration on December 4, 2009.
• Support our Holiday Online Auction with a donated item or bid on great holiday gift items during the online auction from November 13 to December 2, with a final chance to bid at the event on December 4th. Absentee bids are available online for those not in attendance on December 4th.
• Provide a generous year-end tax deductible donation to support our efforts to provided education and stewardship volunteer programs in our State Parks and to help restore reduced services in our parks during the State Park budget crisis.

Visit our website at for more information.

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