Campers worry about future of state parks

July 1, 2011 7:29:52 PM PDT
Sunny weather means lots of people will enjoy state parks this holiday weekend. But come next July 4, about 70 of those parks could be closed due to budget cuts.

Even in this festive holiday weekend, between talk of barbecues, fireworks and swimming the bay, it seems everyone is talking about China Camp State Park being listed for shut down.

For Lisa Luhn and her family, China Camp is the perfect getaway for the holiday weekend.

"The campgrounds were so clean, I mean the bathroom was cleaner than a restaurant bathroom, I could not believe it, it's beautiful," Luhn said.

But keeping it clean and beautiful costs money that the state says it no longer has.

With the state parks budget down to nearly half of what it was six years ago, China Camp is among 70 parks that are slated to close come next summer unless money is found somewhere else.

"It would just be really sad to see it close down because it's such a beautiful view and a lot of people like coming here," park patron Natasha said.

"And also it's a nice local place to come because if this park is gone then you have to drive far away to find another nice place to be," park patron Collette said.

One man is hoping folks like the parks so much, they'll pitch in a buck to save them.

"He's putting these buckets all the parks and even stores, trying to get people to donate enough money to keep these parks open," China Camp groundskeeper Frank Quan said.

One dollar at a time, the bucket campaign has already raised $20,000.

Another effort by Raley's supermarkets, the owner of Nob Hills Foods, will donate a nickel to the parks for every shopper who brings in a reusable bag.

"This budget challenge is forcing all of us to really think creatively and be more innovative more entrepreneurial and look for new ways to draw visitors to the parks, new ways to raise money for the parks and new ways to engage the community so that they support the parks individually," State Parks Director Ruth Coleman said.

For all the enjoyment her family gets from the park, Luhn says she would gladly pay more to use it -- and bets others would too.

"I think that people would be willing to pay a little bit more to camp; I don't think we need to close the parks," she said.

In Sacramento, Republicans and Democrats are blaming each other for the park situation, but there's still time to work out a deal.

Folks who work at China Camp think donations, special events in the parks and even sponsorships from local businesses could be part of the solution.

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