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Added fees at Auburn park raise $55,000 since July

Money goes toward staff, future restroom
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Travis Schultze and Will Parrott stopped at the Confluence on Tuesday to view the trail map, scouting out their route for a mountain biking session, only to drive off right after.

From Modesto and Sacramento, respectively, they didn’t know a $10 parking fee had been implemented since last visiting eight months ago, so they would look to leave their cars elsewhere. Schultze only had $5 in his wallet, which he would have gladly paid, he said.

“I was so down for $5, but $10, honestly, for three hours? No, I’m good.” he  said. “I’m a cheapskate. I’m a college kid.”

Beyond the initial “sticker shock,” increased parking fees have went over without much dispute and have already had one immediate benefit to the Auburn State Recreation Area, said Mike Lynch, state park superintendent of the Gold Fields District of the California State Parks.

After six months of charging a $10 parking fee for the first time at the Confluence, Yankee Jim’s and Grizzly Bear, about $55,000 has been collected and it is on pace to generate its expected $90,000 for the year, Lynch said. At least 50 annual passes were also purchased for the area, he added.

The increased revenue has allowed the park to employ a senior park aid during heavy use times, helping mitigate the amount of vehicle break-ins, Lynch said.

The staffer, paid between $10 to $12 hourly, works 10-hour shifts on the weekends during the summer, and break-ins have been eliminated entirely when the person is working, Lynch said, though a few reports of theft from cars at the Confluence have been made when the aid is off duty.

“This last year has been a bad year for car break-ins – the last two years – probably because of the economy and everything,” he said. “We were having a couple break-ins at the Confluence every week, and also other areas in the park. And it was a bad problem for us.”

Having so many remote parking areas adds to that challenge, he added.

Lynch said money from the parking fees will also help pay for a new $75,000 restroom facility that could be built as soon as this coming summer.

Accompanying the $10 parking fee implemented in July was a $2 increase in camping and boat launch fees to $3 at Upper and Lower Lake Clementine, Mineral Bar and Ruck-a-Chucky campgrounds, and that generated an additional $2,000, Lynch said.

The added costs for users are all part of a 25-year Managing Partner Agreement between the State Parks and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for the continued management of Auburn and Folsom state recreation areas.

Per the agreement, all fees collected at either area will be used to offset the cost of operating and maintaining the two local park units, as well as to fund facility repairs and improvements.

Ethan Dominguez and Katie Sullivan parked at the Confluence on Tuesday without knowing they had to pay a fee. Visiting from San Francisco because their friend recently moved to Auburn, they had been told by locals to check out the spot for some sight seeing.

“I didn’t think it would be $10 just to park for 10 minutes and look at the scenery,” said Dominguez, a pharmaceutical salesman. “That’s something we find in San Francisco. I didn’t think we would find it up here.”

Sullivan said the signage is somewhat confusing, because she thought “day use” would pertain to an extended period of time.

“We’re literally just going to park, and we just wanted to look at the river for a bit,” she said. “Day use … makes me think that it would be something where you would be here the rest of the day.”

The $10 fee is a bit steep, she said, and it would be beneficial to be able to pay electronically, perhaps with a smart phone application, for people who don’t carry cash around.

There’s a “Day Use Self Registration” station with envelopes and a box to deposit the fee.

No citations have been issued for people not paying the fee, Lynch said, and he attributes that in part to a long education period. Park staff has issued warnings and reminders, he said, but by the end of the summer about 95 to 98 percent of people were voluntarily complying with the rule.

“People were adjusting to the fee and paying the fee without us having to remind them or give them a warning or anything,”  Lynch said.

There’s no indication that park use has dropped off since the fees took effect; in fact, attendance is up about 100,000 people, from 900,000 last year to 1 million this year, Lynch said.

Part of that is weather dependent, so a better measure of changes related to the park is evaluating it on a five-year basis, he said.

“The whole attractiveness of it is that it’s free, just come up here and hang out, throw rocks in the river, whatever,” Parrott said. “And now when they start charging $10, I understanding people want their money, but nah.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews