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Some Auburn State Recreation Area parking will jump to $10 next week

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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The Auburn State Recreation Area’s wild and scenic canyon experience is getting pricier. New pay-to-park fees of up to $10 are due for a soft launch this September at choice trailhead sites like the Quarry Road lot, the horse trailer parking area on Auburn’s Pacific Avenue and Cool equestrian parking area. Popular recreational destinations like Upper Lake Clementine and Mammoth Bar Off-Highway Vehicle Area that already have $5 day-use fees in place will start charging the increases on Monday. And camping fees at the park’s three campgrounds – at Lake Clementine’s boat-in camp, Mineral Bar off Iowa Hill Road and Ruck-A-Chucky on the Middle Fork American River – are also due for still yet-to-be determined increases. Fees are now $15 at Mineral Bar and Ruck-A-Chucky. They’re $24 for the 18 reserved Lake Clementine spots. The state is warning campers to expect increases of from $5 to $21. Acting Superintendent Mike Lynch said that there are no plans at the moment to establish pay-to-park at the sides of the road around the American River confluence – the most heavily used area of the park. September will see the new “iron ranger” collection boxes activated at the Quarry Road trailhead and other locations. Motorists will deposit fees and a form with their license plate number in the metal receptacles instead of paying a parks employee before entering. Rangers will monitor the different locations to determine who is paying or not. There will be a 30-day “educational process” with warnings in the new day-use areas. “We’re trying to provide a grace period so people can get used to it,” Lynch said. Lynch said the new and increased fees are being driven by both state and federal budget concerns. The Parks Department has ordered the day-use parking fee and camping cost increases to offset continuing budget reductions. Camping reservations made prior to Monday will be honored at the lower price. The Auburn State Recreation Area, which has 500,000 visitors a year, is on land set aside for an Auburn dam and overseen by the Parks Department under a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau has asked that more user fees be implemented to help shoulder some more of the costs of the park, Lynch said. The bureau now provides $1.4 million for ranger patrols and trash pickup but doesn’t pay for equipment replacement or facility maintenance. The bureau also wants use fees to match Folsom State Recreation Area’s, Lynch said. The fees there are now $8 and due to likely increase to $10. The “iron ranger” boxes were put in place two years ago but the fees were never instituted at the four new recreation area locations after the park got a reprieve on budget cuts. “Now the situation has totally changed,” Lynch said. Eric Peach, a board member with Auburn’s Protect American River Canyons, said the fee increases are happening throughout the state and he understands them, in the context of avoiding park closures. “It kind of hurts people on a low budget but I don’t think the increases are high enough to deter people too much,” Peach said. Peach said that his State Parks Foundation membership includes a year-long pass to state parks. Annual passes are for sale at $125. At the confluence on Wednesday, Steve Bryant of Citrus Heights said he has mixed feelings about fees. “I grew up with no fees in parks but I understand their current needs,” Bryant said. “If they want them for a worthwhile purpose, like maintenance, then I wouldn’t object.” Stacy Quatela of Meadow Vista said she would pay the fees for parking. “But I have hopes that it would help to take care of the area,” Quatela said. “On the other hand, California is a huge tourism state and there are still plenty of places to go for free. That’s what California is about.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.