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Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, the 4,000-acre gem east of Kenwood, appears to have avoided the budget ax and will remain open past a July 1 deadline when dozens of parks statewide are slated to shut down.

A coalition of Sonoma County nonprofit groups announced Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with California State Parks to take over operations at Sugarloaf and fully reopen the park to the public on June 1, in time for the summer vacation and camping season.

The agreement still requires approval from Parks Director Ruth Coleman and from the Department of General Services. Such approvals have been formalities in similar situations.

In addition to the tentative operating agreement, "Team Sugarloaf" also was awarded a $54,000 grant from the California State Parks Foundation.

"We're really excited to bring community resources together with state parks to make it a better place," said Richard Dale, executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, which took the lead in negotiating with the state.

A spokesman for the parks department could not immediately be reached Wednesday.

Dale said the nonprofit groups plan to expand interpretive programs at Sugarloaf and to operate a summer camp. He said there are also opportunities to develop more trails and better maintain those that already are in use.

The gates will never close, he said. And a camp manager will be on site around the clock.

Dale said the park's annual operating budget will be around $235,000, an amount the group is planning to raise through fees and community fundraising.

The cost to camp overnight will increase to $35 and new machines will be installed at the park's entrances to collect day-use fees, which will remain $8, Dale said.

The park's new management also plans to enforce a new ban on alcohol in the campground that Dale said is intended to make the site more "family-friendly." The park has 47 campsites.

"People really don't like going to campgrounds when they know they're not going to have a quiet camping experience," he said.

Sugarloaf was shut down in early December for the first time in its 48-year history, fueling fears that it would stay closed indefinitely because of budget problems enveloping California's beleaguered parks system.

State officials reopened Sugarloaf on a limited basis in February, in part because people were parking outside the closed gates and clogging the narrow road that leads to the trails.

But it had remained on a list of state parks slated to close July 1 to save $11 million this fiscal year and $22 million in succeeding years. The list originally included 70 parks, but has been whittled down as the state has reached agreements with nonprofits and government agencies to take over park operations on a temporary basis.

The state and the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association reached an agreement in April that spared Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen from closure.

The history association also is part of the coalition seeking to take over operations at Sugarloaf. The other members are the Sonoma Ecology Center; Valley of the Moon Observatory Association; United Camps, Conferences, and Retreats and the Sonoma County Trails Council.

The group submitted a bid to operate Sugarloaf under legislation by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, allows qualified nonprofits to run state parks that are set for closure for as long as five years or until the state's finances improve.

The state maintains ownership of the park and will continue to enforce all rules and regulations, such as public access and hours of use.

Sonoma County Regional Parks officials are working with the state to take over operations at Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa in order to prevent its closure July 1.

The nonprofit Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods is also in negotiations to take over operations at Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.

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