A volunteer association is working to take over operations at Jack London State Historic Park as the state inches closer to shutting down the popular Glen Ellen hiking and tourist destination.
The 1,800-acre park is not slated to close until July 1, 2012, but members of the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association expressed concern Thursday that park services could continue to be scaled back.
Jack London already is closed two days a week, and the park's only ranger, Deej Beane, is planning to retire Oct. 14.
"Our fear is that if the last remaining ranger goes away, perhaps there will be some adjustments to these service reductions, adding more days of closure," said Greg Hayes, president of the Valley of the Moon association and a retired Jack London park ranger.
A state parks spokesman on Thursday said he could not provide definitive answers on whether more service reductions are in store or if the park could close completely prior to next summer.
"It is hard to give hard and fast dates, because of the variables of retirements, movement of personnel between positions, funding emergencies and the like," he said.
The Valley of the Moon group sent a letter to State Parks Director Ruth Coleman stating the group's desire to run the facility. Hayes said he hopes the letter will buy the park some time as the association works to draft a proposal to operate it.
"We don't want a chain of events to get into place where they (the state) starts closing the park down before our proposal goes through," he said.
Stearns said Coleman is receptive to the association's plans.
"Absolutely," he said. "We welcome all interested parties to the table to enter into a discussion to find out if they are capable of operating a park."
He said the group will have to demonstrate that they are capable of handling operations, including maintenance, preservation and protection, and bookkeeping.
"They have to have some funding stream that can support their operation," he said.
Valley of the Moon members say they have a 34-year track record of working in Jack London, as well as at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and Annadel State Park, both of which also are slated to close, although Annadel is one of 16 state parks that could earn a reprieve because they receive more than $287 million in federal money.
The state is planning to close 70 of California's 278 parks by July 1 next year to save $11 million this fiscal year and $22 million succeeding years.
Private sector and non-profit groups are lining up in the meantime with offers of help. A bill authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) that would allow such partnerships with non-profits received unanimous support Thursday from a key Senate finance committee.
The Valley of the Moon group also is considering submitting a proposal to operate Sugarloaf, about five miles north of Jack London.
Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville and Petaluma Adobe Historic State Park also are on the closure list.