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State shuts Sugarloaf Ridge park

SSU student Tony Sanders steps over the gate to go for a hike at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood on Thursday. BETH SCHLANKER/PD

By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park shut down entirely this week for the winter, a first in the park’s 47-year history and another troubling sign of the crisis enveloping California’s beleaguered parks system.

Parks officials said they are uncertain whether Sugarloaf can be reopened in the spring, or whether budget problems will force them to keep the popular 4,000-acre park east of Kenwood shut.

“I think it is fair to say that some parks that close for the season, if on the closure list and no partners are found, will likely remain closed when spring gets here,” State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns said in an email Friday.

Sugarloaf, Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa, Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville and the Petaluma Adobe are all slated to close July 1, as are several parks in Lake and Mendocino counties.

Parks officials contend closing 70 parks statewide will achieve $22 million in annual savings demanded by Gov. Jerry Brown last year to help solve a $26.2 billion deficit.

But with the state’s financial situation continuing to deteriorate, parks advocates are worried that parks are in effect being closed now, a concern underscored at Sugarloaf this week.

“The state is walking away from five state parks in Sonoma County and Sugarloaf is the first,” said Caryl Hart, Sonoma County’s parks director and chairwoman of the California Parks and Recreation Commission.

Officials in previous years have limited the use of Sugarloaf during winter months for budget reasons. But closure is a first for the park since it opened in 1964, according to Mary Pass, superintendent for the Silverado sector of Diablo Vista District.

The park, which drew about 105,000 visitors in fiscal year 2009-10, has 47 campsites and miles of trails. Those campsites are closed and no services are offered during the park’s closure.

Pass called the unprecedented shutdown “really sad.”

Programs at the Robert Ferguson Observatory at Sugarloaf are unaffected by the action because that facility operates under a separate contract with the state, Pass said.

And the reality is that Sugarloaf and other “closed” parks will continue to draw visitors.

A gate on Adobe Canyon Road leading to Sugarloaf is closed at a point where motorists can turn around. But officials said there is nothing to prevent people from walking or biking into the park.

Matt Muldoon of Petaluma simply lifted his bicycle over the closed gate Thursday to continue on his ride to the park’s main parking lot. He described his unease as several state vehicles approached him on the road, but then drove on.

He said he later stopped to chat with a park ranger and she informed she had no reason to cite him.

“She said the thing that’s not open is the parking lot,” Muldoon said.

Pass, superintendent for the parks sector that includes Sugarloaf, said there are no regulations to prevent people from hiking or biking at the park, even in its current closed state.

“They just need to find legal places to park,” she said.

But Stearns wrote that no one will be cited as long as the “gates are left open.”

Stearns and other parks officials did not respond to requests for clarification Friday.

The discrepancy reflects the ongoing difficulties officials are having in instituting what they prefer to call “service reductions” at parks, many of which have numerous access points that are not monitored.

The main gate to Annadel park, for instance, is closed during the week to prevent people from using the park’s main parking lot. The restrooms are not being cleaned during the week and staffing is limited, according to Pass.

But people continue to use Annadel during the week.

That’s led to concerns that parks will fall further into disrepair and will be used for illicit activity. Lawmakers last year passed legislation that provides qualified immunity to the state for injuries that may be caused in closed parks.

Stearns on Friday wrote that officials are considering leaving park gates open to try to prevent “those with bad intentions” from doing “their dirty work behind the protection of a closed gate.”

He wrote that officials also are hoping to partner with local groups to run patrols in the parks.

“We have not done this before and it would be an experiment to see how to best handle the park,” he wrote.

Local organizations in the meantime are working on proposals to take over operations at several North Coast parks until the state’s financial situation improves.

Stearns said state officials are still weighing a proposal submitted by the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association to operate Jack London park, which is now closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Sonoma Ecology Center is leading a consortium of agencies that hope to operate Sugarloaf, while county parks is taking the lead on a plan for Annadel.

Hart said the county-led group has received enough donations to operate Annadel for a year should it close July 1. She declined to say how much money that entails or to identify the person she said was responsible for a major contribution, saying she’ll make those announcements later.

Hart said she’s moving closer to submitting a formal proposal to operate Annadel to county supervisors and state parks for their approval.

“It’s not like we are sitting here letting this happen,” she said of park closures. “We’re mobilizing, and we need help.”





12 Responses to “State shuts Sugarloaf Ridge park”

  1. John Bly says:

    @alice Simpson-you pose a great question. On a broader scope, why does our State Assembly vote raises for their staff while closing our parks? We voters keep putting these people in power and complaining about their actions. We need to vote those folks out that give our State away to the “non-payers”.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: John Bly – “Although sad to see the closed gates, it is a good reminder that entitlements don’t come without a price.”

    Gov. Brown is looking to increase taxes by 7 billion per year, or else… doom and gloom.

    Isn’t he the same person who just recently passed the California Dream Act for illegal immigrant students? Isn’t it great that college students get to compete against illegal immigrants for grants, scholarships, enrollment at a college and then after they graduate, compete for a career?

    Talk about an ‘entitlement’ that a select group aren’t even entitled to… no tax increases until the California governor quits giving away our money to suit his preferred voter-class.

    And instead of threatening us with more education cuts, lets put the cuts where they belong, on bloated government and pet union-based projects that cost us three-times the prevailing costs in this economy.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  3. Entitlements? says:

    @ John Bly:

    “Entitlements”, you mean like our tax dollars paying you for your construction projects, and all the waste and cost overruns billed to the tax payers? Please. I love when Republicans talk about being self made and against government spending while ripping us all off and complaining about entitlements.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  4. Follower says:

    @John Bly
    I couldn’t agree more!
    I too am all for raising taxes as much as it takes to keep our Government running but as long as they continue to piss away money like their making room for the next 6 pack, NOT A CHANCE!
    Go ahead & cut my Police protection, cut my Fire services, shut down the libraries, schools, parks anything you THINK will squeeze me into giving you more money to waste.
    Ain’t gonna happen!
    I work for company that does a lot of contracting to the State, County & Municipal Governments. I see the waste 1st hand. I see the people “working” there, doing NOTHING about it. Playing along because that just how it is, how it’s always been.
    Shame on you AND your Union!

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  5. John Bly says:

    The State needs to go on a drastic diet. Although sad to see the closed gates, it is a good reminder that entitlements don’t come without a price. Cut the spending then we can talk about more taxation. Yep-it’s going to hurt for a while.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  6. Money Grubber says:

    Kay Tokerud seems to misunderstand who REALLY owns the park property.

    It is not the so called “rangers.”

    It is not the bureaucrats.

    It is not the politicians.

    The owners of the park land are the public. Odd that government bureaucrats always pretend as if THEY own our property.

    The fact is, Kay, that park property was there before you were even born and it was a natural, beautiful place to visit. Your demand of trespassing citations for anyone who wants to hike or browse through the park is typical of a public employee who has some sort of entitlement concept that you own what is OURs.

    We need far, far, fewer “rangers” to act as our overlords.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 8

  7. Reality Check says:

    @Alice,

    I doubt that parking fees paid anything but a tiny portion of Sugarloaf’s costs. Although, I get your point. Horseback riders paid more than most users.

    California’s general fund used to pay for things like parks. No longer. It’s pretty much dedicated to legal mandates. Parks aren’t mandated. They, and virtually anything not mandated or absolutely essential, is on the chopping block.

    Sugarloaf should be a county park. Probably 90% of its users are local.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  8. Alice Simpson says:

    It’s ironic that closing the gates to parking lots in wildland parks like Annadel and Sugarloaf will shut out the only groups of users that consistently paid for the parks by paying the parking fees, and that is horseback riders. It’s not possible to park a horse trailer on a city street outside the park and walk in, so equestrians used the parking lots for horse trailers and they paid the fees. Essentially, they subsidized all the hikers and mountain bike riders who did not pay parking fees. And they will be the only ones shut out of these parks. What financial sense does this make?

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  9. Kay Tokerud says:

    Misdemeanor citations for trespassing should be immediately sent to these two. What kind of message is sent to the public by posting these flagrant violations of our laws? Are they going to occupy the parks?

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 19

  10. John Lennon says:

    I love the two photos of the people that walk/ride past the signs anyway

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  11. Money Grubber says:

    Closing a portion of state parks is not a “crisis” except in the minds of the minority of people.

    Several surveys have found CA voters to consider the closures the most appropriate avenue to deal with a shortage of funds.

    I would like to emphasize that only a portion of the overall state park system is targeted for closure.

    Now, the real “crisis” I see is that although the parks are being kept open even at the local level, the school kids are getting shortchanged by further and further cuts in their hours and school years and classes.

    Parks will always be there to re-open. The children will be forced to go through life with a lesser educational foundation than the rest of us had. NOT good.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 14

  12. Social Dis-Ease says:

    More incremental indoctrination pursuant to the removal of humans from country/rural/open space.
    Just like Agenda 21 dictates.

    As long as there’s enough money for the train to tyranny and their human settlements called Smart Growth…
    that’s what’s really important.

    Well, important if your goal is to oppress, contain, and surveil.

    Search: The Wildlands Project.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 8

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