The Army Corps of Engineers says it finally has the money to reopen recreational facilities at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, but it will come in part from new parking fees.
The Corps on Tuesday began reopening restrooms and about 200 campsites after the national headquarters released money as part of its annual work plan, approved in March. The facilities had been closed since last year because no money was included for them in a Congressional resolution designed to end last's fall budget impasse that temporarily shut down the government.
In part to pay for the reopening, the Corps will start charging a $3-per-day parking fee at the lakes on May 1, but it will discontinue the previous boat-ramp fees. The change should boost the local revenue, the agency said in a statement. Corps policy allows for a fee up to $4, but local officials decided on the lower amount.
A $30-per-year parking pass is available at the Lake Sonoma visitor center; it is good at all Corps-run lakes and facilities nationwide.
The Friends of Lake Sonoma, the nonprofit that has been maintaining the visitor center and chaperoning school tours at the Corps-run fish hatchery since last fall, hailed the announcement.
"We're thrilled, of course, now that spring is here and the weather will soon be better," Executive Director Jane Young said. "We were particularly concerned about not having campsites open during the spring and summer months when usage is so high, so this is welcome news."
The parking fee also is a good thing, board member and longtime visitor center volunteer Gordon Amrein said. The parking fee "will help get more budget money and will mean less stress on the Friends of Lake Sonoma."
The Friends will continue to run the visitor center until September while the Corps builds revenue from the parking fee, he said.
The Corps said rangers and maintenance staff would begin inspecting and reopening bathrooms and other facilities. Amrein said the Friends are warning would-be campers that they shouldn't expect full services at the campgrounds until at least May 1.
Campsites at the Old Sawmill, Rustlers, Thumb and Skunk campgrounds, which require a boat to reach, will remain closed because of low water levels, the Corps said.
Water levels are so low at Lake Mendocino that the five campgrounds normally accessible by boat will remain open because they can be reached on foot.
(You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BeerCountry.