California's State Parks face an uncertain future. Because of budget cuts, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed closing as many as 70 historic sites, beaches and recreation areas by July 2012.
If it happens, Californians no longer will have access to some of the state's most cherished treasures, such as the Governor's Mansion in Sacramento, a great fishing spot at Brannan Island and the enormous gold nugget on display at a Mariposa museum.
Here is a list of 15 must-see parks from the governor's "hit list" and the reasons they should be on everyone Californian's must-visit list during the next 13 months.
Be aware that services in some parks already have been reduced. For details on any site in the California State Parks system, go to www.parks.ca.gov
South Yuba River State Park
17660 Pleasant Valley Road, Penn Valley (Nevada County)
The park's treasure is the Bridgeport Covered Bridge, built in 1862 and, at 251 feet, the longest such bridge in the world. Independence Trail was the first wheelchair- accessible wilderness trail in the United States. Along with historic mining sites, the park offers scenic steep canyons and stunning waterfalls, along with hiking trails, swimming and weekend gold-panning demonstrations.
Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park
3369 St. Helena Highway North, St. Helena, and
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
3801 St. Helena Highway, Calistoga (Napa County)
A hiking trail connects the parks. Edward Turner Bale built the water-powered grist mill in 1846. Locals came to him to grind their corn into meal and wheat into flour. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park has campsites, picnic grounds and pool swimming, along with 10 miles of hiking trails. Park elevations range from 300 to 2,000 feet.
China Camp State Park
101 Peacock Gap Trail, San Rafael (Marin County)
In the 1800s, a Chinese shrimping village flourished at China Camp, which boasted three general stores. Today, the park offers beach access to San Pablo Bay, 15 miles of trails, picnic grounds, campsites and a museum that recalls the era of long-ago Cantonese shrimpers.
Tomales Bay State Park
1208 Pierce Point Road, Inverness (Marin County)
The Coast Miwok lived here long before Sir Francis Drake landed in 1579, followed by Spanish explorers in 1595. In the 1940s, real estate developers started buying up beachfront property, prompting conservation groups and local residents to ask the state to preserve the land. The park, with one of the last virgin Bishop pine groves in California, was dedicated in 1952.
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
11855 Fifth Ave., Jamestown (Tuolumne County)
The far-flung branch of the California State Railroad Museum is home to the "Movie Star Railroad." Hollywood first descended in 1919, for the silent serial "The Red Glove." Steam-powered excursion trains run weekends April through October. Historic shops and the roundhouse are open for tours.
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park
26 miles north of Nevada City (Nevada County)
This was the site of California's largest hydraulic gold mine. Among its remains is a 7,847-foot bedrock tunnel that was used to drain water. Exhibits in the visitor center recall life in the mining town of North Bloomfield.
525 The Esplanade, Chico (Butte County)
Among the guests John and Annie Bidwell welcomed into their 26-room mansion were Gen. William T. Sherman, Susan B. Anthony and President Rutherford B. Hayes. Today the Italian-style villa is open for guided tours.
Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park
3325 Adobe Road, Petaluma (Sonoma County)
Mexican Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo used the adobe as the main residence on his Rancho Petaluma, where he ran cattle, sheep and horses. It's outfitted with period furniture. Shaded picnic areas dot the property.
Jack London State Historic Park
2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen (Sonoma County)
Adventurer and author Jack London ("The Call of the Wild") lived and wrote here, on his Beauty Ranch, from 1905 until his death in 1916. What remains are his cottage, bathhouse, the gravesite of London and wife Charmian, and the burned-out remnants of his beloved Wolf House.
California State Mining & Mineral Museum
Mariposa (Mariposa County)
Its crown jewel is the Fricot Nugget, a 13.8-pound specimen snatched from the American River in 1864. The nugget is the largest intact piece of crystalline gold dating to 19th century California.
FIVE MUST-SEE PARKS NEAR SACRAMENTO
If time is short and the price of gasoline seems too high, here are not-to-be-missed state parks located in or within an hour's drive of Sacramento:
Stanford Mansion State Historic Park
800 N St., Sacramento
The mansion was home to Gov. Leland Stanford (1861-63) and later was used as an orphanage. After a $20 million restoration, it's open to the public and also is the sitting governor's official reception site.
Governor's Mansion State Historic Park
1526 H St., Sacramento
The Second Empire-Italianate home was built in 1877 as a private residence and later housed 13 governors and their families until the Reagans moved out in 1967.
Brannan Island State Recreation Area
South of Rio Vista
Frank's Tract wetland marsh is home to 76 bird species, muskrat, beaver and river otter. Fishermen come to reel in striped bass, sturgeon, catfish, bluegill, perch and bullhead. Since May 1, the park has been closed Tuesdays through Thursdays because of state cuts.
Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area
Near the town of Colusa (Colusa County)
Fishing is king king salmon, that is at this Sacramento River spot. State Parks officials call it "one of the finest fishing stretches in California." Anglers also come for steelhead, rainbow trout, catfish and others. The naturalist John Muir may have slept near the park's campsite in 1872.
Benicia Capitol State Historic Park
115 West G St., Benicia (Solano County)
California's capital was in San Jose, Vallejo and Benicia before it settled in Sacramento in 1854. Benicia's capitol the only building of the original three to survive is decked out in period furnishings.
Source: California State Parks and Sacramento Bee archives