By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Coast state parks workers are getting ready to reopen visitor centers, campgrounds, beaches, restrooms and parking lots that were closed eight months ago as part of California’s budget crisis.
“It has been extremely tough, frustrating for everybody,” said Linda Rath, superintendent of the Russian River sector. “I don’t like to see the areas closed and the resulting resource damages from not being able to provide services.
“It was the first time in my 25-year career we have had to do anything like this.”
Fort Ross State Historical Park, one of the most popular parks on the Sonoma County coast, after July 1 will again be open seven days a week. Since Nov. 1, it has been open only three days a week.
State workers with mowers and weed cutters are preparing to open the Pomo Canyon and Willow Creek environmental campgrounds. Seasonal park aides and service and maintenance workers also are being hired, Rath said.
By July 1, everything will be back to what it was a year ago, she said.
In Mendocino County, all campgrounds have been reopened, and park workers are readying the visitors centers to be opened by July 1, said Morgan Zeitler, acting sector superintendent.
“In trying to save as many pennies as we could, we had complete and partial closures of some campgrounds,” Zeitler said. “We closed visitors centers and reduced hours, cut back on public restrooms, trash pickups, that sort of thing, and asked the public to pack it in and pack it out.”
Parks officials are cautiously counting on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s promise to restore the park budgets to 2008-09 levels, adding the $14.2 million that was cut last year.
“We know there is a budget that has to get signed,” Zeitler said. “We are just now coming up on the end of the fiscal year. We understand the governor has promised to give us normal funding, or the equivalent to a couple of years ago.”
Zeitler said the Mendocino district, which draws 3.2 million visitors a year, made cuts of $850,000 last year.
The Russian River district, which draws 5 million visitors a year, made cuts of $500,000, which resulted in all or parts of campgrounds and beaches being closed, restrooms locked and parking lots chained off.
“We never want to close anything, but we did have to save enough money to be within our budget,” Rath said.
Also due to reopen are Bodega Head, Campbell Cove and day use areas at south Goat Rock Blind Beach, Russian Gulch and Vista Point.
Before the end of the year, visitors may also have to pay fees at some areas that had been free.
Parks workers are preparing to install “iron ranger” fee stations charging $8 at Goat Rock and Shell Beach and in the front parking lot at Armstrong Grove. Fees could be expanded at other coast parks as well.