Officials wrestle with Auburn rec area solutions

Councilmen have difference of opinion
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The future of Auburn State Recreation Area funding is unknown, and two Auburn city councilmen have different ideas about how to work out a solution. Michael Finnegan, area manager for the Folsom Central California Area Office of the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the Auburn State Recreation Area, said the Bureau currently has a $1.1 million contract with California State Parks to manage the area. This is down significantly from previous years, causing serious cutbacks. Finnegan said less and less money awarded to the Bureau by Congress when the United States budget is passed continuously deflates the amount of money it can supply to State Parks. “Every time we get a cut like that in our budget … we have to pass it along to parks,” Finnegan said. “What we are afraid of is one day it won’t be viable for Parks to be there anymore. If it drops below a certain level, there won’t be enough (Parks) staff up there to do the job. That is the reason we are pressing so hard for any reasonable alternatives.” Mike Lynch, Auburn sector superintendent for the Gold Fields District of State Parks, said because of a $300,000 reduction in Bureau of Reclamation budget for the area, the department is now going to employ four full-time rangers instead of five in the recreation area. This year in addition to closing upper Lake Clementine, China Bar and the Lake Clementine campground for the season, Parks is also closing lower Lake Clementine from Nov. 1 to March 1 and Driver’s Flat/Ruck-a-Chucky campground from Nov. 1 until weather permits it reopening. Lynch said with less funding and less rangers, less attention might be paid to parts of the recreation area that could be more dangerous for Parks staff. With the potential for more rangers having to work their shifts alone, employee safety also becomes a concern, Lynch said. During an incident a couple of weeks ago a ranger was assaulted in the Ruck-a-Chucky campground, and Sheriff’s deputies weren’t able to respond for 20 minutes because of the remote location of the campground, Lynch said. Proposition 21, the California State Parks Initiative on the Nov. 2 election ballot, is a possibility for bringing funding to the recreation area if it should pass. While it’s not clear how much money it would bring to the area, it would impose an $18 fee on registered motor vehicles in California. The money collected from the fee would go toward setting up a trust fund for state parks. Last week Councilman Kevin Hanley, who is currently running for re-election for Auburn City Council, made a proposal for the city of Auburn and Placer County Board of Supervisors to try to come up with solutions for the lack of funding in the Auburn State Recreation Area. Hanley suggested a public meeting with the city and county was necessary to get the federal government’s attention, because private meetings between local, state and federal elected officials are not enough. “The purpose of a joint meeting of the city and county would be to get some public commitments for what is going to happen to this area, which is so important to Auburn and county residents,” Hanley said in an e-mail. “A series of private meetings between some council or county officials doesn’t accomplish this goal. It must be public. Public meetings say that this is a very important problem to solve.” Hanley said he has already gone the route of urging elected officials to help with funding for the area, and thinks a public meeting is the next step in keeping the Auburn State Recreation Area alive and well. Hanley said the meeting should include representatives from the offices of Congressman Tom McClintock, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, State Parks, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and all other involved agencies. Transferring ownership of the recreation area from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Bureau of Land Management is one possible solution, Hanley said. Councilman Mike Holmes, who is also running for re-election to City Council, said he doesn’t feel a public meeting is necessary, because local governments are already working with state and federal officials. “I wouldn’t be opposed to a public meeting, but I have already been working with (Supervisor) Jennifer Montgomery and (Supervisor Jim Holmes) to move this forward along with Mike Lynch from State Parks and representatives from the Legislature. It is a problem as I see it that has to be solved at the Washington, (D.C.) level.” Holmes said very few members of the public have attended past public meetings about the issue. After speaking with representatives from the offices of Sen. Sam Aanestad, McClintock, Boxer and Congresswoman Doris Matsui, Holmes said he feels there is enough horsepower to set aside more Bureau of Reclamation funds for the recreation area. “I think things are already moving in a positive direction, and our representatives in Washington, (D.C.) … they have already started the process of talking to the Bureau of Reclamation about reprogramming additional funds (to the Auburn State Recreation Area). I don’t expect a miracle to happen overnight. The folks in Washington, (D.C.) are looking at Nov. 2 and what is going to happen after that.” Finnegan said there are several options for the future of the recreation area, one of them being the Army Corps of Engineers taking back control of Lake Clementine, but this would mean the closure of the lake to the public. “I’m not going to rule anything out,” he said. “The (Army Corps of Engineers) policy … is they would close it down, and they have not budged off that.” Finnegan said the Bureau expects to be able to keep the recreation area open in 2011 and 2012. “There is no change in our operation next year for sure,” Finnegan said. “We have got to use that time wisely to come up with a long-term solution.” David Christy, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management Motherlode Field Office, said the Bureau could possibly take over some of the land in the future if some changes are made to its agency. “Right now we don’t have the money or the staff to take it over,” Christy said. “We have had informal discussions with Reclamation and State Parks. If we did anything, we wouldn’t necessarily assume responsibility of the whole area.” Eric Peach, conservation chairman for Protect American River Canyons, said no matter what happens to the recreation area, he thinks community members need to step up through something akin to a park watch group, because less rangers means less protection in the area. “It is tough to protect the natural resources with fewer rangers,” Peach said. “People don’t always treat the river and canyons with a lot of respect, and they don’t always treat each other with a lot of respect sometimes. I think also that often the public can be the eyes and ears for communities and resources. (We need to) have the public aware that they need to report what they think are activities that aren’t in the best interest of the resources of the facilities that are there, and the wildlife and the flora.” Reach Bridget Jones at