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Local state parks face closure

POSTED May 17, 2011 9:21 p.m.

There could soon be far fewer places in nature in which to seek refuge should the California State Parks department follow through with a plan to close 70 of its 278 parks — including Turlock Lake, Railtown 1897 Historic Park in Jamestown, George Hatfield State Recreation Area between Newman and Hilmar, Henry W. Coe State Park in Stanislaus and Santa Clara counties and McConnell State Recreation Area in northern Merced County.

“We regret closing any park,” said Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks, “but with the proposed budget reductions over the next two years, we can no longer afford to operate all parks within the system.”

The closures are necessary to achieve an $11 million reduction in the next fiscal year 2011/12, and $22 million in the following fiscal year 2012/13, stated the parks department in a release.

 State Parks had three primary goals for developing the closure methodology: protect the most significant natural and cultural resources, maintain public access and revenue generation to the greatest extent possible and protect closed parks so that they remain attractive and usable for potential partners. The methodology was included in the budget bill approved by the Legislature and the governor in March.

Despite the large number of parks identified for closure, State Parks stated that at least 92 percent of today’s attendance will be retained, and 94 percent of existing revenues will be preserved with the 208 parks that will remain open.

Turlock Lake, while sharing the city’s name, is actually located in La Grange, about 25 miles east of Modesto on the south side of the Tuolumne River. The lake is currently open year-round for camping, picnicking, fishing, swimming, boating and water skiing.

According to Liz Steller, State Parks district services manager, Turlock Lake has approximately 52,000 visitors annually. State Parks has a lease agreement with Turlock Irrigation District, which actually owns the lake, to manage the recreation services provided. The current lease with the state began in February 2000.

Turlock Irrigation District said it will evaluate options regarding the recreation area in the months and year ahead, while awaiting the state’s ultimate decision regarding the lake’s closure.

“With this announcement, we can begin to seek additional partnership agreements to keep open as many parks as possible,” said Coleman. “We already have 32 operating agreements with our partners — cities, counties and non-profits — to operate state parks, and we will be working statewide to expand that successful template.”

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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