California budget woes: crime, trash and gates if south Yuba closes |

California budget woes: crime, trash and gates if south Yuba closes

Sun News Service Photo - John HartDuring the summer months, Bridgeport at South Yuba River State Park offers a cool retreat for many. The park is one of 220 state wide in jeopardy of closing.

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. and#8212; If the governor follows through on a proposal to close 220 state parks, local residents could see gates go up at their favorite swimming holes on the South Yuba River.

Though details are sketchy, rangers are preparing for the worst.

and#8220;No one’s ever seen anything like this before. It’s pretty scary,and#8221; said Jeremy McReynolds, supervising ranger for the South Yuba River and Malakoff Diggins state parks.

If the South Yuba River State Park closes, there is no question a 10-mile stretch of wild and scenic river would become dirtier and more dangerous, undoing years of work to make the area family friendly.

The local economy also would falter, as the number of people coming from out of town to stay at local hotels and stock up on supplies such as ice, cold drinks, picnic food and gasoline dwindle.

Though Governor Schwarzenegger is looking at shutting down state parks as a means to close a $26.3 billion budget shortfall, the state’s 279 parks represent a little more than one-tenth of one percent of the state’s total general fund budget, according to the park system.

Saving $149 million by closing 220 state parks would cost the general fund more than $350 million in lost revenue, plus eliminate $6.5 billion in profits for businesses who rely on park visitors.

On a busy summer day, the South Yuba River State Park’s four major river crossings and Independence Trail attract 3,000 visitors, McReynolds said.

During the Independence Day weekend, rangers counted 400 cars parked at Bridgeport alone. Each car typically carries three to four people, they said.

and#8220;We have a lot of people specifically coming up to Nevada City for summer vacationsand#8221; from San Francisco, Sacramento and Yuba City areas, McReynolds said.

For now, entrance to the park is free, but a fee could be required in future years as a means to keep the public land open.

Five state park rangers actively patrol the four major river crossings: Edwards, Purdon, Highway 49 (including Jones Bar) and Bridgeport.

Rangers are trained peace officers and are often the first emergency personnel on scene when a major medical call comes in from the river. They treat patients before helicopters arrive.

Each year, the park handles an average of 20 major medical calls that include falls from trails, bridges, rocks and people trapped in rough current. Rangers intimately know local pools and landmarks, making for quicker arrival to an injured person’s side.

Rangers issue more than 300 law enforcement citations each year and prevent dozens more injuries from occurring by enforcing state park rules, McReynolds said.

and#8220;That’s work that other agencies like the sheriff’s office would have to respond to,and#8221; McReynolds said.

The state park system began acquiring land around Bridgeport in 1986, and it took several years to become an official park. Prior to that, garbage, broken glass and alcohol and drug use were prevalent along beaches, according to stories McReynolds has heard from visitors.

and#8220;They’re always so appreciative we’re taking care of the place. Now they feel safe bringing their families here,and#8221; he said.

Vandalism such as graffiti on river rocks and other damage to natural and historic resources would increase without regular patrols from state park rangers. Daily trash pick up and toilet service would cease, McReynolds said.

Built in 1862, the large wooden covered bridge at Bridgeport is noted as one of the longest spans of its kind.

and#8220;Trying to protect the bridge with limited staff would be difficult,and#8221; McReynolds said. Old wooden flumes along the Independence Trail also could fall into disrepair without funding.

It is unclear what, if any, staffing would remain intact. Without patrols, the heavily wooded and remote pockets of the park could be eyed as perfect for growing marijuana and offer other opportunities for criminals.

and#8220;Typically in remote areas like this, car burglaries tend to go up if we don’t do routine patrols,and#8221; McReynolds said. Illegal camping could threaten the river canyon with wildfire.

State park officials have been given very little information about the future. The uncertainty has begun to take its toll on McReynolds, whose voice sounded tired and sad.

and#8220;It just wears you down trying to save your park. It’s emotionally draining,and#8221; he said.

Those who want to preserve local state parks are encouraged to write letters to their state legislators and join the State Park Foundation campaign to save the parks, McReynolds said.

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