Cabins debut at Spring Lake Regional Park in Santa Rosa

The future of camping in California's public parks has arrived at Santa Rosa's Spring Lake Regional Park.

Three oddly-shaped cabins designed by college students and built by a company in Oregon promise a more refined camping experience at the forested urban park.

No more fiddling with tent poles or lathering up with bug spray. Inside the cabins, some of nature's more annoying features are eliminated by shutting the glass-paneled doors.

“I know a lot of people who would stay in these,” said Tom Webb of Santa Rosa, who gazed upon one of the cabins after emerging from his tent. “Not having to deal with the heat, cold and bugs, and having it kid-safe. I would say there's a need for this.”

The so-called “wedge cabins,” which are set to debut around Labor Day, will cost between $79 and $99 a night, depending on the day and season. That's more than double the $35 fee to pitch a tent at the park. But officials argue it's worth it.

“It gives you the camping experience, but in a different way,” said Bert Whitaker, of Sonoma County Regional Parks.

Following the recommendations of an influential state task force, California State Parks has signaled its intent to install more cabins in parks, including those modeled after the cabins being set up at Spring Lake.

The initiative is aimed at modernizing parks statewide in order to attract the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts and generate revenue to help pay for park services and facilities.

Caryl Hart, the county's parks director, said the cabins will “turn people on to parks.”

The Spring Lake cabins are constructed from western red cedar and measure approximately 170 square feet in size. They are outfitted with an assortment of built-in bunk beds and double beds, and campers supply their own bedding. Their sloped roofs inspire their name.

With no electricity or water, the cabins still qualify to some extent as roughing it. Communal bathrooms are still some distance away. The cabin closest to the bathrooms will be fully accessible to the disabled, officials said.

Officials hope the cabins will attract people who can't afford the expense of buying camping equipment or simply don't want to go through the hassle of doing so. Parks statewide are struggling to attract a younger and more diverse audience, a trend that threatens the future stewardship of treasured open spaces.

Hart, who was a member of the Parks Forward Commission, whose recommendations are driving much of the current overhaul of the state's parks, said the cabins offer a “hybrid experience of being outdoors and yet not having to buy all the stuff.”

She said many people are not aware Spring Lake already offers camping. The park's 31 sites for tent, trailer and RV campers are tucked on a hillside around the bend from the park's southern entrance on Newanga Avenue.

The new cabins, also in the campground, can accommodate between four and six people. In addition, each campsite will accommodate two tents, for a maximum occupancy of 12 per site, and feature barbecue stoves, food prep areas and other amenities.

Bedding down for the night, campers inside the cabins can gaze up at starlight filtering through the large windows encircling the structures. The cabins also open up more opportunities for camping during the rainy winter months.

“I can see where yuppies and millennials would be attracted to this,” said Sharon Swart, who lives near Spring Lake and walked the grounds Wednesday with her husband, Russ.

Architectural students at Cal Poly Pomona designed the cabins and worked with county parks to further tailor the models for Spring Lake. The students' work, which includes three other lodging models, had previously caught the attention of the Parks Forward Commission.

The county spent just under $100,000 to have the three cabins custom- built by a company in Oregon. The money came from the Sonoma County Water Agency, which receives a portion of property tax assessment for flood-control purposes at Spring Lake.

Walking with his wife, Russ Swart described the cabins as “utilitarian,” which he said he meant as a compliment.

“The maintenance should be minimal. There's not a lot to be vandalized,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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