Our View: Keep historic Gold Discovery Park open to everyone

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On Jan. 24, 1848, James Marshall discovered gold in Coloma. More than 160 years later, the state of California is looking to close Marshall Gold Discovery Park, built on the site of that historic discovery, which launched the gold rush and a massive migration west. More than 70,000 schoolchildren visit the historic park annually. It draws hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world. Closing the park, called the most historic of its kind west of the Missouri River, would have catastrophic consequences for the local economy. The state is looking to save approximately $500,000 in operating costs. But negative economic ripples will be felt a long way from the nearby South Fork of the American River. The park needs about $700,000 in annual revenue to pay for itself, according to Assemblyman Ted Gaines’ office. A fiscal conservative, but small businessman himself, Gaines is rightfully leading the charge, along with Ron Briggs, El Dorado County District 4 supervisor, to keep the park open. The Lotus-Coloma Chamber of Commerce and the Gold Discovery Park Association are also taking a stand, fighting to keep the park open, and the tourist dollars it lures flowing like the scenic river that runs through it. What’s ironic is that the state Legislature limited what schoolchildren and the public could be charged to visit Marshall Gold Discovery Park, eliminating the possibility of hundreds of thousands in additional revenue. That’s fine, during good times. After all, schoolchildren need to know their history. The park features Sutter’s Mill, storytelling docents wearing gold rush-era garb and much, much more. To now penalize the park for providing a low-cost, vital education cog to fourth-graders who must study California history as part of the state-mandated curriculum, is ludicrous. In Auburn, about a half-hour away, there has been much debate recently about the naming of Central Square. Many, including the Placer County Historical Society, have cited the importance of recognizing and celebrating our rich gold rush history. The Claude Chana statue in Old Town Auburn, showing him panning for gold, lures tourists off Interstate 80 and into our city. Highway 49 goes right through Auburn on its way to Coloma. No doubt countless tourists have taken this route over the years, many stopping and spending their dollars locally. The state must not be pennywise and pound-foolish. It must save our historic state park and all it has to offer. All hope is not lost. Assemblyman Gaines is hosting a town hall meeting Tuesday in Coloma aimed at stopping the park closure. The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution this week urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reconsider. And the Coloma-Lotus chamber is uniting residents and area business owners to rally around our historic park. Marshall park is a gold nugget. It draws tourists from near and far. The state should listen to Assemblyman Gaines and Supervisor Briggs, both of whom understand the sometimes-fragile economies of the areas they represent. The state must keep Marshall Gold Discovery Park open. California should pan for flakes of savings somewhere else.