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Community Rallies as State Park Faces Threat of Closure

Many of California’s state parks were saved from closing this year thanks to operating agreements with nonprofits and private organizations.  Others are on the rocks – or narrowly avoided closure, like Benicia State Recreation Area, which we heard about yesterday.  But one state park in Nevada County offers quite a different story. As Amy Quinton reports in the second of our two-part series, the entire community pulled together to save South Yuba River State Park.

Nestled in a canyon near Grass Valley in the Sierra Nevada foothills is the South Yuba River state park. It’s been described as a string of pearls, nine disconnected parcels of land along a 20 mile stretch of river.

Clear emerald-colored pools lie along the river enticing swimmers.

“This river is stunning… glorious… gorgeous. It’s a gem and it doesn’t matter who you are in this community or what political affiliation you have, you love this river," says Miriam Limove is a park volunteer, visitor and member of the South Yuba River Citizens League.

The South Yuba River Citizens League or SYRCL, helped save the river from several proposed dams in the early 1980’s…and the group was instrumental in saving the park from closing this year.

Executive Director Caleb Dardick says when the group heard about the state’s plan to close this park, members moved quickly. “We needed to make a long and loud sound in Sacramento to draw attention to this park, otherwise these remote rural parks would have easily been cut.”

So SYRCL gathered more than 10-thousand petition signatures in 20 days. “I don’t think a lot of the parks on the closure list put as much pressure, political pressure, on Sacramento as the folks around here did,"  says Don Schmidt, Supervising Ranger for South Yuba River State Park.

But it took more than political pressure, they had to come up with a revenue source. So SYRCL and other community groups persuaded county officials to put up “No Parking” signs on the park’s main road. That forced some visitors to pay a fee to park.

Rangers now collect a five dollar fee at a new kiosk and parking lot in Bridgeport. Amandala Simpson of Grass Valley has no problem paying to park for the first time. “I’m okay with having to pay if we can keep the park open because this is a great place to come.”

“Don’t have any problem with it, it’s five bucks (laughs) “That’s a pretty cheap day, it’s worth it.”

That’s Brian Diverd of Folsom, dropping his five dollars into a new self-payment box at another new parking lot across the street. Supervising Ranger Schmidt hopes the parking fee will bring in between 60 and 80 thousand dollars a year.

Without that revenue, the park would have a $150,000 deficit.

“It will help save the park, we still have a fairly significant shortfall that hasn’t been made up in any way shape or form.”

Many of the parks once on the closure list were saved because of operating agreements with nonprofits.

Schmidt says it’s a good idea...but may not work in the long run.

“Most of the nonprofits are not cash flush, they weren’t designed to be, they were designed to raise money to put right back into the interpretation and education programs in our parks so they don’t sit with huge balances on their books.”

Caleb Dardeck with SYRCL agrees…he says in the long term, the park system is best operated by the state.

“I feel like we’re always at risk. I just think it’s going to take constant vigilance on our part to push back these repeated attacks to either privatize or close these state resources these belong to the people and the people in this community aren’t going to let that happen.”

South Yuba River State Park may be safe for now, but just how long its new revenues can keep the park open is uncertain.

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