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California campgrounds, preserves shuttering gates as shutdown continues

Published: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013 - 1:55 am

The U.S. Forest Service has told 115 Sacramento sixth-graders who were excited about spending next week at the Sly Park Environmental Education Center, tucked into the Eldorado National Forest outside Pollock Pines, to stay home instead.

“The federal government told us yesterday we have to shut down Sly Park,” said Sacramento County Office of Education Superintendent Dave Gordon. “The staff is all ours. There’s no federal presence on the site. But because of the shutdown, we can’t have the student program.”

The forest can’t be barricaded from the public, but the meandering access roads to school programs in the forest can be.

Within the first 48 hours of the federal government shutdown, the country’s national parks shuttered their gates, making their visitors’ centers, picnic areas and campgrounds inaccessible to the public. Now national forests, nature preserves and wetlands are following suit, although on the somewhat confusing timetable of the several different federal agencies that run them.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will close public campgrounds at its 10 California parks on Sunday afternoon. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s six wildlife preserves in Northern California are already closed. And the Forest Service shut some of its concessionaires’ campgrounds Friday, while others remain open at least through the weekend.

If the forests and wildernesses and wide open spaces beckon on the second weekend of a cool, breezy autumn in Northern California, campers take their chances finding a spot that hasn’t already fallen victim to the shutdown. Federal websites, frozen at splash pages for the duration, don’t provide much help.

“It’s frustrating,” said Carol Chaplin, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. “What it comes down to is that local agencies are trying to communicate what we know on behalf of our federal friends, who’ve been furloughed on strict orders.

“It is confusing. Communications are tough because the federal personnel have been furloughed.”

The Lake Tahoe Basin provides a case in point. The contractors who operate resort lodging on Forest Service land – at Camp Richardson, Zephyr Cove and Round Hill Pines – braced to close down immediately, said Chaplin, but several instead learned on Thursday they could continue operating. Chaplin wasn’t sure why they got the reprieve – and the federal officials who might know were on furlough.

“They’re operating over the weekend, and then we don’t know,” Chaplin said. “People camping there are still camping. The brides having big weddings there are still having their weddings.

“Honestly, I don’t know how we threaded the needle on this one but it’s good news for us.”

At the Prosser Family Campground in the Tahoe National Forest outside Truckee, campers with reservations for this weekend weren’t as lucky. The camp is now closed for the year.

“We’ve called maybe 150 people, everybody on our reservation list for the next two weeks,” said Char McCollum, who works at the campground. “There are quite a few people who had plans for this weekend. We had weddings and a couple of Boy Scout troops and some church groups coming up.”

Her campground was slated to close for the season on Oct. 15. This year, because of the shutdown, the season ended early.

The Sardine Campground, not far off Highway 49 near Sardine Lake in the Tahoe National Forest, wasn’t scheduled to close its 17 campsites until Nov. 3. “But the Forest Service came through yesterday and barricaded all of the campgrounds,” said campground employee Wendy Reilly. “They closed our gates but they can’t barricade the whole forest.”

Obviously not. Interstate 80 runs through Tahoe National Forest, and Highway 50 passes through the Eldorado National Forest, with several trailheads just off the road.

Forest Service fire emergency crews and law enforcement personnel are still on the job. But no day or overnight permits into Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe are being issued. Hikers explore the granite peaks and alpine forests at their own risk.

“There are people still entering using the trailheads,” Chaplin said. “But the word of caution I get is that day permits won’t be replenished, and they’re for the safety of the person using the trail. With the weather changing, if something happens, maybe nobody will know where it happens.”

The California state parks system is trying to pick up some of the slack – first with travelers disappointed not to have access to Yosemite and other national parks, and now with displaced tourists from the other federal wilderness properties that account for one-third of the land in the state. For tourists’ convenience, the state parks website – www.parks.ca.gov – lists the state parks located near California’s now-shuttered national parks.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls from people wanting to understand the situation and see if state parks are impacted, which in fact they’re not,” said Vicky Waters, spokeswoman for the department. “A lot of tour groups are affected. They want to make sure they have someplace to go, and we’re trying to accommodate them.”

But what do you tell a bunch of disappointed sixth-graders when they learn their science camp has been canceled?

About 7,500 Sacramento kids visit SCOE’s Sly Park center for science lessons, science walks and nature hikes every year. For now, Gordon said, the office of education will refund the fee of $220 per student for those who planned to attend next week. It’s also possible, he said, that some of the schools can reschedule.

“For a lot of our inner-city kids, they’ve never seen snow before,” Gordon said. “This is a beautiful site with a lot of trails.

“There’s nothing about this site that needs to be shut down.”


Call The Bee’s Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136. Follow her on Twitter @AnitaCreamer

Read more articles by Anita Creamer



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