Association plans to keep Jack London park going while state budget recovers

A non-profit organization that hopes to take over operations at Jack London State Historic Park and keep the Glen Ellen site open got a boost this week with legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, allows qualified non-profits to run state parks that are slated for closure for as long as five years or until the state's finances improve.

The legislation clears the way for the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association to submit a plan to operate Jack London. State Parks Director Ruth Coleman would have final say on the proposal.

"We have to take it as it comes," said Greg Hayes, president of the Valley of the Moon association and a retired Jack London park ranger.

The 1,800-acre park is not scheduled to close until July 1, 2012, but association members fear 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, intends to retire in November.

Hayes said the association is hoping to submit its proposal to run the park in a few weeks. The group must demonstrate that it is capable of handling operations, including maintenance, bookkeeping, preservation and protection.

The state would maintain ownership of the park and enforce all rules and regulations, such as public access and hours of use, said Roy Stearns, a state parks spokesman.

The state is planning to close 67 of California's 278 parks by July 1 to save $11 million this fiscal year and $22 million in succeeding years. The list originally included 70 parks, but the National Park Service agreed this week to operate Tomales and Samuel P. Taylor state parks in Marin County and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. All three are within federal parks or recreation areas.

Non-profit groups also are weighing their options at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Petaluma Adobe Historic State Park and Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville, all on the closure list.

Colleen Ferguson, president of the Valley of the Moon Observatory Association's Board of Directors, called the governor's action this week "great news," saying it creates options for keeping parks open and running.

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