Another View: Auburn State Recreation Area: In the beginning

Another View
By: Mike Holmes, Auburn city councilman
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Editor’s note: This is the first of two columns from Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes regarding the Auburn State Recreation Area. The American River canyon has provided recreation for many generations before and since the Gold Rush. In this first column I want to give you a short summary of recreational developments in the canyon over the past 70-plus years. During the Depression of the 1930s there was an increased interest in gold mining on the rivers of northern California. The federal government decided to build a series of dams to prevent silt and other debris from being distributed further down the rivers. Two of those dams are in Placer and Nevada counties. The North Fork dam on the American River, which holds back Lake Clementine, and the Englebright dam on the Yuba River, which holds back Englebright Lake. Harry Englebright was our U.S. congressman at the time. Both of these dams are owned and controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As it became desirable to formalize some of the recreational activity at Lake Clementine, in 1952 the Army Corps negotiated a 15 year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Auburn Recreation and Park District (ARD) to provide management oversight in the area. ARD designated the Auburn Boat Club as the concessionaire at Lake Clementine. Through the combined efforts of the Auburn Boat Club, ARD and the Army Corps, continued improvements were made at the lake resulting in a full-page story in the July 12, 1962 edition of the Auburn Journal declaring “Clementine marina rated among California’s best. Decade of cooperation builds recreation center.” A number of photographs were included in the article. With the authorization of the Auburn Dam Project by Congress in 1965, stewardship of the American River canyon began to change. The federal Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Department of the Interior, began acquiring private lands within the Auburn Dam Project area. Other federal lands within the Auburn Dam Project are owned by the Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps and federal forest lands. There are still a number of private holdings within the area. The California State Parks and Recreation Department (State Parks) has had a role in managing the area through various agreements since 1977. As a result of a general plan prepared in 1979, the Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA) was created. The bureau has provided funding to State Parks for law enforcement, resource management and recreation for the operation of ASRA for over 30 years in amounts that have varied from $200,000 in 1977 to $1.4 million in recent years. The bureau also leases some land in the project area to ARD and the Placer County Water Agency. In the past couple of years alarm bells began going off when the Auburn Boat Club expressed concern that Lake Clementine might be closed due to loss or reduction of funding from the bureau. State Parks and the Auburn Boat Club instituted some fee increases to keep the lake open to the public. Since the resolution of this issue involves several federal agencies, Congressman (Tom) McClintock was asked to host a meeting at the Auburn City Hall in April 2010. Present at the meeting, in addition to Congressman McClintock and some of his staff, were two state senators, and representatives from Assemblyman (Ted) Gaines’ office, State Parks, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, Army Corps of Engineers, County of Placer and the City of Auburn. Mike Finnegan, Bureau of Reclamation district manager, stated that his budget was being reduced and the agency could no longer fund the contract with State Parks at the former level. Col. Chapman, Army Corps District Commander, declared his agency did not have a recreation mission and if funding for ASRA was not continued, the Army Corps, the owner of the North Fork dam, would close the gates to Lake Clementine and all recreation in the area would cease. Congressman McClintock charged the federal agencies to work together to come up with a plan to resolve the issue. Some $2.7 million has been requested in the president’s budget to continue funding ASRA. My next report will provide an update on the status of that budget request.