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Group gets OK to keep Austin Creek open

  • Chris Knight, right, and Sarahfina Bachrach enjoy a picnic at Bullfrog Pond in the Austin Creek State Recreation Area on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (Christopher Chung / PD)

Of all the campsites at Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville, No. 20 is Patrick Craven's favorite.

It's easy to see why. The space is shaded by majestic redwood trees and overlooks a pond that is named, appropriately enough, for the bullfrogs that Craven said keep him awake at night.

"This is where I always come to get away," Craven, a San Francisco stage hand, said Tuesday at the site.

Craven will continue to have access to his beloved campground after the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods received word Sept. 7 that California State Parks has formally agreed to let the nonprofit group run Austin Creek.

The 5,700-acre reserve was among dozens of state parks that were threatened with closure to bridge what was believed to be a $22 million shortfall in the parks budget.

Revelations that state officials were actually sitting on a hidden surplus of about $54 million led to public outcry and delayed consideration of the Stewards' application to take over operations at Austin Creek.

The signed agreement finally arrived in the mail Sept. 7, almost a month after Stewards reopened Bullfrog Pond Campground to the public. The campground was closed last year because of service reductions at state parks.

Austin Creek is adjacent to Armstrong Redwoods State Park and is accessed through the same entrance.

Past Armstrong's redwood groves is a single-lane road that enters Austin Creek and winds up the mountain to elevations of 1,500 feet.

Bullfrog Pond is near the top, tucked in a forest of tall trees. The campground has 23 sites, all of which were in use during one day over Labor Day weekend, said Michele Luna, the nonprofit group's executive director.

Stewards is hoping to capitalize on the site's popularity and build on it as the group embarks on the unchartered path of operating a state park.

"I think we can handle it," said Luna, who has been with the Stewards group since 1994. "It's not that complicated."

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