Center for Environmental Reporting

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Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, a Sonoma County non-profit that has long provided interpretation, restoration and other services,  has applied to the California State Parks Department to assume responsibility for operating  Austin Creek State Recreation Area (currently on the closure list) and Sonoma Coast State Park.  Working with the Parks Alliance for Sonoma County, Stewards’ proposal would expand its work to include campground operations and fee collection. 

State budget cuts over recent years have caused the seasonal closure of Austin Creek’s Bull Frog Pond Campground, many coastal State Park access points and numerous coastal campsites. The full closure of Austin Creek SRA is proposed as part of a 70-park closure plan for July 1.

onoma-coast-beachStewards’ proposal, if accepted, would keep these areas open and use locally-raised funds for local costs including campground operations, State Park rangers and seasonal staff, trash service, trail maintenance, septic system pumping and restroom maintenance.  With staffing at an all time low, funds could keep seasonal staff employed, who might otherwise lose their jobs. Ironically, visitation to state parks has increased during the economic downturn and funding for state parks has decreased.

Stewards believes their proposal creates a win/win for local State Parks with Stewards generating new revenue on the coast via new collection stations at day-use parking lots where services, such as restrooms and trailheads, are provided. Executive Director Michele Luna contends that “these are different and unprecedented times when closing parks is very real, as evidenced by the service reductions we have seen on Sonoma Coast since 2009. It’s time for our local communities to take responsibility for our parks and help keep them open with volunteer and local fundraising efforts. Stewards has raised funds through local contributions in the town of Jenner to keep the Visitor Center and restroom open since 2009.”

Austin_Creek_vistaStewards and State Parks will educate the public about the reasons why and how fee collection will be implemented, ways to secure park passes and volunteer opportunities, which provide annual Russian River District day-use passes for 16 hours of service in a year’s time.

On February 2nd, the State Public Work Board approved the possible bundling of Austin Creek SRA with Mendocino County parks and allowing a for-profit corporation to take over operations. Luna is hopeful that State Parks will decide that her organizion’s operating proposal best meets their criteria for keeping Austin Creek open.

Austin Creek SRA is a 5,700 acre wilderness area of oak woodlands, redwood forest, the headwaters of East Austin, Fife, and Gilliam creeks. Prehistoric sites date back 4,000 years. It also contains the home, workshop and school of internationally renowned potter, Marguerite Wildenhain, who passed away in 1985. It includes 24 campsites, 2 wilderness backcountry sites, and 20 miles of hiking and equestrian trails. Stewards is very concerned that closing Austin Creek could lead to, among other potential outcomes, increased fire danger, illegal marijuana grows and vandalism.

sonoma-coastSonoma Coast State Park comprises over 10,000 acres and over 20 miles of magnificent coastline including the Willow Creek watershed. Currently at Sonoma Coast State Park, service reductions have resulted in the closure of eight day-use areas, two environmental campgrounds, and 2/3 of Bodega Dunes Campground. This leaves only a few day-use areas open with restroom facilities and only 49 spaces available at Wrights Beach and Bodega Dunes combined for camping.

Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods provides support education and stewardship volunteer opportunities and restoration efforts in Russian River area State Parks. These include Seal Watch, Whale Watch, trail maintenance, environmental education, and docent-led walks and hikes. Volunteers give over 30,000 hours a year to their parks in the Russian River District. 
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