Sugarloaf Ridge State Park shut down entirely this week for the winter, a first in the park's 47-year history and another troubling sign of the crisis encompassing California's beleaguered parks system.
Parks officials said they are uncertain whether Sugarloaf can be re-opened in the spring, or whether budget problems will force them to keep the popular 4,000-acre park east of Kenwood shut.
"I think it is fair to say that some parks that close for the season, if on the closure list and no partners are found, will likely remain closed when spring gets here," State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns said in an e-mail Friday.
Sugarloaf, Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa, Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville and the Petaluma Adobe are all slated to close July 1, as are several parks in Lake and Mendocino counties.
Parks officials contend closing 70 parks statewide will achieve $22 million in annual savings demanded by Gov. Jerry Brown last year to help solve a $26.2 billion deficit.
But with the state's financial situation continuing to deteriorate, parks advocates are worried that parks are in effect being closed now, a concern underscored at Sugarloaf this week.
"The state is walking away from five state parks in Sonoma County and Sugarloaf is the first," said Caryl Hart, Sonoma County's parks director and chairwoman of the California Parks and Recreation Commission.
Officials in previous years have limited the use of Sugarloaf during winter months due to budget reasons. But closure of the park, which went into effect Thursday, is a first for the park since it opened in 1964, according to Mary Pass, superintendent for the Silverado sector of Diablo Vista District.
The park, which drew about 105,000 visitors in fiscal year 2009-10, has 47 camp sites and miles of trails. Those camp sites are closed and no services are offered during the park's closure.
Pass called the unprecedented shut-down "really sad."
Programs at the Robert Ferguson Observatory at Sugarloaf are unaffected by the action because that facility operates under a separate contract with the state, Pass said.
And the reality is that Sugarloaf and other "closed" parks will continue to draw visitors.
A gate on Adobe Canyon Road leading to Sugarloaf is closed at a point where motorists can turn around. But officials said there is nothing to prevent people from walking or biking into the park.
Matt Muldoon of Petaluma simply lifted his bicycle over the closed gate on Thursday to continue on his ride to the park's main parking lot. He described his unease as several state vehicles approached him on the road, but then drove on.
He said he later stopped to chat with a park ranger and that she informed she had no reason to cite him.
"She said the thing that's not open is the parking lot," Muldoon said.
Pass, superintendent for the parks sector that includes Sugarloaf, said there are no regulations to prevent people from hiking or biking at the park, even in its current closed state.
"They just need to find legal places to park," she said.
But Stearns wrote that no one will be cited so long as the "gates are left open."
Stearns and other parks officials did not respond to requests for clarification on Friday.