Museum issue: good debate, bad facts | SierraSun.com

Museum issue: good debate, bad facts

Hayden W. Sohm
My Turn

I wanted to take the opportunity to respond to the Sierra Sun’s guest column (“Intent on paving Donner experience” March 11) regarding the proposed High Sierra Crossings Museum at Donner Memorial State Park.

The public debate that has been generated by this project is certainly a healthy manifestation of our democratic system. My real concern with this debate has been the continued misinformation that has been doled out to the public to help bolster the arguments against this project.

I think it’s important to ” as Paul Harvey says ” share “the rest of the story” with your readers. The following are some responses to the issues that were presented in the column:

The idyllic image conveyed regarding “pets frolicking on the waterfront” is actually an unlawful act. In deference to the fact that the writer wants State Parks to adhere to the law: I think it is fair to expect the public to adhere to the law regarding the prohibition of dogs on the beach.

The writer states that State Parks is required to adhere to the law regarding the protection and preservation of the environment and aesthetic resources within the park. I certainly agree. However State Parks is also required by statute (Public Resources Code 5003) to “develop and interpret the property under its jurisdiction for the use and enjoyment of the public.” We are not “hell bent on violating every aspect of the law.”

We have been accused of “intruding on a beach area.” This notion has been circulated widely within the local community conjuring up an image of a large edifice along the shoreline that will block access and prevent activity on the beach. In reality the building is over 150 feet from the shoreline. The site that was selected is tucked among the trees on the bluffs above the lake. Based on the present computer simulations the visual impact “vis-a-vis the lake” is minimal.

The writer cites a $23 million price tag for the project. I wasn’t sure if this was a typo or not. The actual price tag is approximately $6 million. Many question the wisdom of expending such vast sums during our present fiscal dilemma. The funds for this project have come from park bonds voted by the electorate specifically for park improvements. These funds must be used for these purposes. It would be illegal for the department to utilize these funds to solve the current budget problem.

The writer alludes to the fact that the east lake shore is the only portion of the park that is “available to the public for free use.” It seems to me that most all portions of the park are free if a visitor chooses to walk in or ride a bike. Our fees have been established for parking. Currently 75 percent of the park operating budget is derived from gate fees. Your tax dollar only provides about 25 percent of the support for park operations. I would think that most visitors would support the notion of paying fees to support the current level of services. Without the fees the parks would close.

Fortunately many of the “pavement only” people look forward to leaving the city and visiting our State Parks. It’s my responsibility to balance the needs of the local community with those of our statewide visitors. We will continue to work towards solving the issues which have been presented by our local stakeholders. I would only request that we try to present rational arguments based on facts and not prey on the fears of the uninformed by promoting myths and misinformation.

Hayden W. Sohm is the Sierra District superintendent for California State Parks.