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Private funding sought to reopen Lake Sonoma rec areas

  • The Liberty Glen campground at Lake Sonoma is closed to due budget cuts, Tuesday Nov. 12, 2013 in Healdsburg. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

While the budget deadlock ended a month ago, federal officials say there is still not enough money to reopen recreation facilities at Lake Sonoma, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to fish, boat and camp in the hills west of Healdsburg.

Community supporters are searching for private funding to reopen the visitors center, campgrounds, bathrooms and several parking lots at the 2,700-acre reservoir operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It will take at least $5,000 a month to reopen the shuttered facilities, said Harry Bosworth, president of the Friends of Lake Sonoma, a nonprofit support group.

Warms Springs Fish Hatchery

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"The biggest headache will be the visitors center, paying for the electricity," Bosworth said. "We're looking at ways to reduce that."

The lake remains open for fishing, boating and some day uses. But more than 200 campsites and five group day-use sites, along with several parking lots and trailheads, will remain closed until sufficient funding is allocated, said Lt. Col. John K. Baker, the Corps' district director in San Francisco.

All public facilities at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, both operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, were shut down for 16 days in October by the federal budget impasse. The Corps had hoped to resume normal operations, but the resolution that ended the budget dispute sliced about $1.2 million from the agency's local budget.

That shortfall, on top of previous budget cuts that had already reduced staff, left the Corps with a difficult choice, said Senior District Ranger Charles Fenwick: reopen the recreation facilities or maintain the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery at the base of Warm Springs Dam.

In this case, the fish won.

The hatchery is home to the last surviving breeding population of a variety of Coho Salmon that once spawned in the Russian River and its tributaries. Shutting down that hatchery even for a brief period could kill the remaining fish.

"The hatchery is like a light-switch," Fenwick said. "It's either on or it's off."


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