Tahoe parks slated for closure in Calif. budget

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

LAKE TAHOE " All California state parks in the Lake Tahoe Basin, including Emerald Bay State Park, would be closed under a new budget proposal from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

All 16 state parks in the Sierra District would close, including Emerald Bay State Park, said Pam Armas, California State Parks Sierra District Superintendent.

The other parks in the basin include D.L. Bliss State Park, Tahoe State Recreation Area, Kings Beach State Recreation Area, Donner Memorial State Park and Sugar Pine Point State Park.

"It's devastating," Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Executive Director Carol Chaplin said. "We can't take many more hits."

The governor's plan would shutter 220 parks statewide, officials said Thursday.

Lake Valley State Recreation Area is also on the list of closures, and it contains the Lake Tahoe Golf Course, said Cindy Walck, an associate engineering geologist with California State Parks and Recreation department.

The golf course is one of the top revenue-generators for the state park system by brining in more than $500,000 each year, Armas said.

Walck didn't know if the potential closure would be reviewed to keep it open.

"We're all in limbo at the moment," Walck said.

The closures in the Sierra District would affect 86 permanent employees and 100 seasonal employees, Armas said.

But it's not just the park employees. Armas said the closures would effect the state and local economy.

Armas said her low estimate of visitors to Emerald Bay State Park is about 168,000 per year.

"Closing the Emerald Bay State Park would have dire repercussions for our community," Betty "B" Gorman, Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce wrote in an e-mail.

"These visitors, whether camping at the campground or simply stopping at the viewpoint, all spend money in our community while they are here. They utilize local services, lodging properties, restaurants and support our retailers," Gorman said.

Without those visitors, businesses don't earn as much money, Armas said.

"It's really a ripple effect because it's not just the park employees, it's the whole economy," Armas said. "Those businesses rely heavily on us being open."

During the summer, Sugar Pine Point has weddings every weekend, Armas said.

Because of the harsh economic times, Chaplin said visitors might have been planning to camp instead of staying in a hotel to save money. If the campgrounds aren't open, then it deters visitors who were planning trips on limited budgets.

Another problem is that if visitors think they can't see Emerald Bay, they might not want to come to Lake Tahoe, Chaplin said. The challenge would be to convey the message that visitors would still be able to see Emerald Bay, such as from a boat or from the road, even though the other facilities are closed.

The California State Park system attracts nearly 80 million visitors a year. William Randolph Hearst's Castle on the central coast and a dozen other so-called money makers would remain open. So would many of Southern California's beaches that attract millions of visitors year round.

Other parks on the potential closure list include Bodie State Park and Mono Lake Tufa Reserve.

California spends roughly $400 million a year running California's 279 state parks and beaches, with roughly a third of the money coming from the state general fund. Bond funds, gasoline and highway taxes, federal funds and other pots of money make up the rest.

" The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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