Setting aside concerns about long-term costs, Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday took their first official steps toward assuming temporary management of Annadel State Park.
The board unanimously authorized Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart to open negotiations with the state about taking over operations of the popular 5,000-acre park on Santa Rosa's eastern flank.
The decision was cheered by a overflow crowd of hikers, bicyclists and equestrians, many of whom encouraged the board to take the step and promised to continue raising money to keep the park open.
"It's not just the state's burden. It's our burden," said Carlos Perez, founder of cycling organization Bike Monkey.
Perez said his organization helped raise $50,000 to save Annadel, and those efforts will continue, he said. He reminded supervisors that a significant number of the 300,000 annual visitors to the park come from out of the area.
"Annadel is a huge draw for tourism to Sonoma County and the financials of that should not be set aside," he said.
Despite the strong show of support, board members clearly did not relish the prospect of becoming responsible for another service previously handled by the state.
Supervisor Mike McGuire said there is "growing frustration" about the way the state continues to shift responsibilities to local government, whether through prison "realignment," human services or parks.
"Once again the county is having to act as the state's sponge, soaking up those vital programs that they continue to shed off their plate," McGuire said.
Running Annadel would dramatically increase the amount of park acreage run by the county. Currently that figure is about 8,000-acres, so Annadel would represent a 62 percent increase.
Costs are pegged at about $350,000 per year. The state has committed about $150,000 in funding and in-kind services, while donors have raised $189,000. That leaves a gap of just $11,000 the first year.
It's the future years that worried some supervisors, who earlier in the day dissolved their redevelopment agency and lost full control of $18 million in funds intended to reduce community blight.
"What I'm concerned about, is that this one year will quickly turn into five that will quickly turn into a (county) regional park," McGuire said.
Supervisor David Rabbitt offered a similar view: "It seems like for years we've been treading water and my worry is that we are adding diving weights to our belt."
But doing nothing carries its own risks and potential costs, Hart said. Fire and personal safety risks would increase in a park that is officially closed but that people would continue to use.
She said the county will seek ways to increase revenue from the park, including selling park memberships specific to Annadel. The county also will explore charging for parking along Channel Drive, a free jumping off point for many visitors.
State law bars charging a trail-use fee, but the county might look into selling badges people can display to show their support for the park, Hart said.
"I think that we will be looking at every angle, every manner of fund-raising with our partners. I can guarantee it," she said.
Seventy California parks are marked for closure, with 75 percent of them in Northern California.