Overflow crowd shows concern for Auburn State Recreation Area at forum

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Concerned about the future of the 26,000-acre Auburn State Recreation Area, a crowd packed the Placer County Board of Supervisors chambers and spilled out into the hallway today for a forum. With decreased Bureau of Reclamation spending in yearly state Parks Department contracts to patrol and maintain the canyon land near Auburn on the middle and north forks of the American River, about 140 people turned out for a forum on keeping funding flowing. They were told by federal, state and county officials that agreements are in place to keep the recreation area – including Lake Clementine – patrolled and maintained until September 2012. After that, moderator Jennifer Montgomery – supervisor for a district that takes in much of the recreation area – said a long-term federal appropriation is a must. Montgomery, who hosted the event with fellow Supervisor Jim Holmes and Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes, said that the public needs to work with government to find a way to reverse what she described as a clear and dramatic downward trend in federal funding. In a room filled with hikers, runners, kayakers, anglers, gold panners, equestrians and boaters as well as federal, state and local representatives, the mood was one of cooperative resolve. “We’re right up against the clock again,” said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation District Manager Mike Finnegan. He said that about $2 million is needed annually for state parks to effectively manage the recreation area for public health and safety. This year, the budget is for $1.1 million. Finnegan praised the turnout, stating he had been on a campaign to raise awareness about the potential for increasing drops in the bureau’s Auburn State Recreation Area budget for several years. “We have a plan in place to operate there until at least Sept. 30, 2012,” Finnegan said. “That will buy some time to come up with a long-term solution.” Norman Gonzales, community outreach director for U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, said the congressman was committed to finding a long-term solution to Auburn State Recreation Area funding. That could mean looking for funding by going line by line in the bureau’s budget to come up with the $500,000 to $900,000 needed to restore funding, he said. “It’s going to take a long-term effort from everybody in this room,” Gonzales said. The recreation area takes in canyon lands that have been reserved for eventual construction of the Auburn dam and resulting upstream inundation of the American River canyons. The dam was authorized in 1965 by Congress but work was halted because of earthquake concerns in the 1970s. Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the River, said that the canyon lands would never be protected “until it becomes an entity unto itself.” “We have the basis for a national park in our back yard,” Evans said. Tim Woodall, president of Auburn’s Protect American River Canyons, said the bureau took over the land intending to build a dam – not manage a popular park. The recreation area attracts 900,000 visitors a year, according to State Parks estimates. “They didn’t buy into this and quite frankly their budget is not built for it,” Woodall said. Woodall said one viable option would be to transfer the land to the Bureau of Land Management, which already has 11,000 acres of land in the Auburn dam project area. The bureau has the experience to manage river-based lands like the recreation area’s, he said.