Russian ambassador lobbies to save Fort Ross state park

State parks officials are hoping a visit to Fort Ross by Russia's ambassador to the United States will spark interest in saving the historic Russian settlement from the budget axe.

"He said strong partnerships are the way to go and he'd work to help with that," said Roy Stearns, deputy director of communications for California State Parks.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak did not commit his government's money to help keep the park open, Stearns said, but he knows many influential people who may have an interest in helping maintain California's first Russian settlement, he said.

"Maybe there's a benefactor or company or support group that can assist. And we welcome that kind of help," Stearns said.

Kislyak visited Fort Ross on Thursday to view it in person and to see whether there was anything to be done to help it stay open."It's a big deal for many in the Russian community, Stearns said.

Fort Ross, which is on the Sonoma County coast about 10 miles north of Jenner, was established in 1812 by the Russian-American Company as a hunting and agricultural outpost. The Russians inhabited the settlement until 1841, when they sold it to John Sutter.

The fort has remained important to the Russian community, whose history is celebrated there each year on the last Saturday of July. Fort Ross Cultural Heritage Day often is attended by Russian dignitaries such as Vladimir Vinokurov, the Russian consul general in San Francisco. He visited the fort again on Thursday with Kislyak and parks officials.

"It's our joint history," he said in a July interview.

The former outpost is on a long list of state parks that could be closed as part of an effort to cut about $53 million over two years from the state parks budget.

The list is expected to be unveiled next month. Parks that are the biggest drains on the budget are most likely to be closed, both for reasons of economy and fairness, Stearns said.

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