Efforts are under way in the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra foothills to raise enough money to keep parks, lakes and other recreational venues open when state funding ends July 1.
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park near Jamestown, Turlock Lake east of Waterford, and McConnell and George J. Hatfield recreation areas in Merced County are four of 66 parks across the state facing closure.
However, a group in Merced County is near its fundraising goal of $65,000 to keep McConnell and Hatfield open.
The deadline to raise money to save the Merced parks had been March 31. The state, however, allowed for an extension, said Richard Jantz, a member of the group trying to save the Merced County parks.
"We think it's something that should be done," he said. "It would certainly be a loss in terms of recreational activities for young people and their families."
Cindy Lashbrook is a Livingston resident and associate director of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, which is behind the effort to save the parks, along with the Delhi Municipal Advisory Council. The effort is going "down to the wire," she said.
Looking for donations
The Merced County Board of Supervisors on May 8 gave the effort a $10,000 loan from its supervisorial special district funds, Lashbrook noted.
Jantz said the group is working toward getting donations from organizations big and small, and recently got the city of Newman to agree to contribute $5,000.
"We are optimistic and we're going to work very hard until the last minute," he added. "I'm hopeful. I think we'll get some more in."
Lashbrook said the deadline to raise money to keep the park open beyond June 30 is today and her group needs an additional $4,000.
Although McConnell and Hatfield are state parks, Jantz said that label can be misleading. "Although they are called state parks, in a lot of respects, they're community parks," he said. "It's the community that benefits from these parks."
The two parks draw about 40,000 people each year.Local leaders, including Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and the Merced County Board of Supervisors have sent letters to the state detailing how closing the two parks in an economically distressed area could hurt their constituents.
Beyond limiting recreational options, the closed areas could attract crime and put an extra burden on law enforcement, which has been stretched thin in Merced County, the letters said.
Turlock Lake's fate will be up to the Turlock Irrigation District, which owns the 3,500-acre park and stores part of its Tuolumne River water supply in it. The park's 228 acres are bordered by the river and reservoir, and it has been leased to the state since 1950.
TID spokesman Herb Smart said the district is evaluating proposals submitted late last month on what to do with the park after July 1. He said the proposals include an option for the TID to operate the park with its staff.
Another option proposes that the state look for a subcontractor to operate the park, but no finalists have been chosen and nothing has been determined.
"I know there are a lot of options on the table," Smart said. "We're trying to work as fast as possible."
On the ballot
The Tuolumne River Trust, which works to restore and maintain areas along the river, has been advocating to keep the park open since the state's closure plans were announced.
"Turlock Lake is a beautiful campground and the only place to sleep under a gallery forest of old growth valley oaks along the lower Tuolumne River," said Jessie Raeder of the Tuolumne River Trust. "It's also the only public access in that stretch of river."