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Monday, August 1, 2011

Groups hope to take over local state parks

Budget cuts target Palomar, San Pasqual for closure next year - 

— There is growing community interest in acquiring the keys to two parks in San Diego County that the governor plans to padlock next year.

Organized groups have launched preliminary talks with state parks officials with hopes of saving Palomar Mountain and San Pasqual Battlefield parks if pending legislation passes to permit nonprofits to take over campgrounds, museums and forests. ...

“Palomar is just a very special place of paradise ... It’s a park that offers a lot of natural wonders for families,” said John Summers, a Los Angeles resident who grew up on the mountain and plans to retire there. ...

[By closing state parks] nearby communities and the state will lose the jobs and tax revenue when visitors no longer show up to buy a souvenir, go out to eat or spend the night in a motel.

“The more I delve into this issue the more I am convinced that closing parks will cost the state far more than any nominal cost savings,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

Huffman is carrying legislation that would authorize state parks to turn over properties to nonprofits as long as certain conditions are met. His measure sailed through the Assembly and is now before the Senate Appropriations Committee chaired by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego.

Without Assembly Bill 42 becoming law, nonprofits across the state will not be able to assume control of parks, such as Palomar Mountain and San Pasqual Battlefield.

There may be another option, at least for Palomar. Park Superintendent Nedra Martinez has had preliminary discussions with her federal counterparts at the surrounding Cleveland National Forest about turning operations over to them.

... Martinez has been talking with ... several mountain community residents floating a bid to run the park, which sits the shadow of the world-famous Palomar Observatory. The park drew 142,746 campers and day use visitors during the 2009-10 budget year.

“We are very serious,” said Summers , who has retained a grant writer and is awaiting specifics from the state about what it needs, from liability insurance to maintenance. ...

It cost the state nearly $300,000 in direct, on-the-ground costs for Palomar in the 2010-11 budget year. Income from camping, day use and leases came to about $140,000, she said. ...

Without a deal in place, Palomar will close July 1 — just as the camping season hits its peak. ... (916) 445-2934

Full story here.

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