Park closures bad news for Tahoe tourism | NevadaAppeal.com

Park closures bad news for Tahoe tourism

Greyson Howard
Nevada Appeal News Service

TAHOE/TRUCKEE ” A California budget proposal to close 220 state parks ” including all parks in Truckee and Tahoe ” could devastate the local tourism industry.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has recommended eliminating $70 million in parks spending by closing 220 of 279 parks through June 30, 2010, as part of his proposal to close a $24.3 billion deficit. The parks would close after Labor Day.

Area state parks include Burton Creek, D.L. Bliss, Donner Memorial, Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point, Emerald Bay, Kings Beach State Recreation Area, Tahoe State Recreation Area and Ward Creek.

If closed, all public access will be barred in the area state parks.

“We’d have to turn away everybody,” said Pam Armas, California State Parks Sierra District Superintendent. “There could be squatters, homeless, or illegal activity.”

“It could have an absolutely devastating impact on our community,” said Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council. “It’s what people come to the Sierra Nevada for.”

In a survey done in 2002, state parks brought $6.5 billion in revenue to private businesses across the state from tourism, Armas said, and the Truckee-Tahoe area is particularly influenced by park visitors.

The Sierra District of California State Parks gets 700,000 visitors annually, Armas said.

On top of the impact on tourism, Armas said the cut would mean the loss of most of 65 permanent employees and 200 seasonal employees in the Truckee-Tahoe area.

But the problem isn’t just whether or not to close some state parks, Frisch said, it’s the California budget as a whole.

“The point is the California budget crisis and fiscal mismanagement has lead us to the most draconian of choices between evils,” Frisch said. “It’s a budget that doesn’t have revenue for health and human services.”

Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, R-Clovis, said the state can’t afford to subsidize state parks at a time when lawmakers are being asked to make severe cuts to health care, seniors services, education and prisons.

“Parks are just not going to be a priority over public safety and education, as much as we hate to see them close,” Villines said.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report