February 8, 2012
Stewards Proposes Operating Agreement for
Austin Creek and Sonoma Coast
Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods (Stewards) has submitted a proposal to California State Parks to keep Austin Creek State Recreation Area (currently on the closure list) and Sonoma Coast State Park open. Stewards is the nonprofit group that has provided interpretation, restoration and conservation assistance to state parks for over 26 years. 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
Stewards’ 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.
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 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.
In preparation for making the decision to propose an operating agreement for these parks, the Stewards’ Board of Directors embarked on an intensive strategic planning process in the fall of 2011. During that process Stewards met with park staff, docents and volunteers, the tourism community, and nonprofit partners to determine what their priorities should be for the next 3-5 years. The message was clear that Stewards should continue providing educational and stewardship volunteer programs and they should also help by opening up closed areas of Sonoma Coast SP. With visitation close to 3 million a year at Sonoma Coast, restoring public access is a high priority for the economic viability of the area and also for recreational opportunities.
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.”
If Stewards’ proposal is accepted, new fees locally could reopen Sonoma Coast locations as well as keep Austin Creek SRA open. 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.
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 Stewards’ operating proposal best meets their criteria for keeping Austin Creek open. “We understand that State Parks needs to keep all its options open right now, but we feel that our proposal will best serve the State Park mission, the people that love their parks, and especially the natural and cultural resources.”
Stewards 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.
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. Stewards can be reached by phone at (707) 869-9177, email at firstname.lastname@example.org and their website can be found at www.stewardsofthecoastandredwood.org. The California State Park’s website is www.parks.ca.gov.
Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods promotes, restores and protects your state parks through education and stewardship volunteer programs. Visit www.stewardsofthecoastandredwoods.org