Faced with a steep fund-raising crusade and little time to do it, a local group managed to scratch up enough funds to keep open two state parks threatened with closure in Merced County.
McConnell and Hatfield state recreation areas were scheduled to be closed July 1 to help cover the state's budget shortfall unless a private group could raise $65,000 to cover expenses for one year.
The original deadline to raise the funds was March 31, but that time frame was later extended, and those involved in the fund-raising effort needed all the time they could get, said Cindy Lashbrook, an associate director of the East Merced Resource Conservation District.
"It allowed us to stretch it out to the very, very last minute," said Lashbrook, who didn't learn until early winter that $65,000 would have to be raised.
Funding came from several areas, including $5,000 from the city of Newman, a $10,000 special district fund loan from Merced County and $20,000 from the State Parks Foundation. Several small donations from $20 to $100 also helped the group reach its goal.
The road toward $65,000 wasn't an easy one, Lashbrook said.
Because of the poor economy, several big businesses that usually would be willing to contribute weren't able to, she noted.
"There were some 'nos' we really didn't expect," Lashbrook said.
Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, whose District 4 area covers both parks, credited those who took part in the fund-raising, including Lashbrook and Richard Jantz, a member of the Save Our River Parks campaign.
"This is really welcome news," Kelsey said. "There are a lot of people who doubted that this money could get raised in time. This required some private individuals to go out and bust their hump to make this happen."
In late February, Kelsey gave $2,500 of her special district funds as seed money for the Save Our River Parks group. Keeping the parks open not only promotes recreation, but also prevents the isolated areas from becoming havens for criminals, she said.
"I don't know what the future holds -- that's where the challenge is," Kelsey said. "Generally, success begets success."
The group is already thinking about next year and will collect funds when opportunities arise, Lashbrook said.
The final agreement with the state to keep the two parks open hasn't been signed, but those involved in the effort expect it to be firmed up soon.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.