State takes back Annadel Park

  • Lynne Lewis, right, on Max, and Amy Larsen, on Tequila, ride along the Warren Richardson Trail in Annadel State Park, in Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The state plans to resume operation of Annadel State Park on July 1, ending a one-year experiment in which the sprawling, rugged open space on the edge of Santa Rosa has been run by the county's Regional Parks division.

"We don't see this as a take-over or a take-back; Sonoma County has been a great operator," state parks spokesman Roy Stearns said. "We want to keep working with them as a great neighbor," in cooperation with the adjacent Spring Lake Regional Park.

Operational details of the management change are still being worked out between state and county lawyers, Stearns said. The resumption of full state control at the 5,000-acre park is part of a $10 million program to restore state operations at the 70 parks the department had attempted to close in 2012 because of budget cuts.

Annadel State Park At 40


All of those parks ended up remaining open after various non-profits, volunteer groups and local governments stepped forward to take over the management.

The money comes out of a parks fund of more than $20 million that auditors uncovered after the closure plan was announced. Investigators reported that the state parks agency had concealed the size of its reserve fund for more than a decade, running up a huge secret surplus.

The news outraged park advocates who had gone to considerable effort to prevent the closures and it led to a shake-up at the top of the department. The legislature later authorized using half the money to restore state operations in at least some of the 70 parks, with the other half going to major repair work at parks that had not been threatened with closure.

The four other parks in Sonoma County that were on the 2012 closure list will remain under control of local nonprofits, all of which had longer-term agreements with the state: Sugarloaf Ridge State Park near Kenwood, Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park and Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville. The operators of those parks are eligible to apply for a portion of the $10 million, under which the state resumes operations and agrees at least to match the contributions of local park advocates, Stearns said.

Sonoma County had just a one-year agreement with the state at Annadel, which was set to expire June 30. The state is counting the $200,000 the county spent to keep the park open over the last year as a contribution, meaning the Parks Department promises to spend at least that much to operate the park over the next year.

That's still far less than the $575,000 the state claimed in the 2012 closure plan that it spent on Annadel. Local parks officials have expressed skepticism about that figure, saying they managed to operate the park at no apparent loss of services for around $350,000: $200,000 from the county budget, a $50,000 maintenance subsidy from the state and about $100,000 from the state in the form of leaving the state parks ranger on duty even after the county took over operations.

The county had approached the state about continuing to operate Annadel, said Bert Whitaker, operations and maintenance manager for the Regional Parks system. The legislation that authorized the use of that $10 million, however, requires that state workers operate any park where the money is used.

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