The terrible state of our public parks is no more apparent than in the American River corridor. What was once a carefully balanced quilt mosaic of public ownership and management from the confluence with the Sacramento River to the American's north, middle and south forks upstream is unraveling.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has said it will zero-out funding to California to manage the Auburn State Recreation Area after September 2012. Cuts from $2.1 million to $1.1 million already have meant that California State Parks manages the area with a skeleton staff.
State parks over the past 20 years have received less and less state funding – and voters on Tuesday defeated Proposition 21, which would have provided new funding. At Folsom Lake SRA, owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and managed by the state, a 50-year agreement expired in 2006. State Parks alone funds the operation (averaging $4.2 million a year the past five years), and with state cuts has had to keep seven ranger positions vacant. The state needs an equitable cost-share commitment to manage these federal lands in the future.
Sacramento County, which owns and manages the American River Parkway, is looking to zero-out funding and unload management of its entire regional parks system.
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What's needed more than ever is a coordinated interagency approach, including cooperative funding, to assure recreation and protection of natural and cultural resources in the upper parts of the river, the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area and the American River Parkway.
A good starting point for discussion should be to revive the idea of a national recreation area on the American River.
A 1990 feasibility study, sought by Congressmen Vic Fazio and Robert Matsui, concluded that the 81,000- acre American River corridor meets all the criteria for a national recreation area: outstanding natural and cultural features that can contribute significantly to the recreation needs of urban populations and assure national as well as regional visitation.
The idea foundered on the shoals of the Auburn dam controversy. It shouldn't have. The study said the upper three forks alone would "definitely qualify" as a national recreation area, and inclusion of the lower two segments would "enhance" eligibility – no matter what dam alternative was considered.
As with many national recreation areas – Golden Gate NRA, Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity NRA, Santa Monica Mountains NRA – an American River NRA would blend land ownership among several federal, state and county agencies. And like these other national recreation areas, management could be multijurisdictional with one federal agency serving as an umbrella coordinator. Congressional action is needed.
Another possibility, which came up at an Oct. 26 public meeting hosted by Placer County and Auburn officials in Auburn, would be to create an American River National Monument. The president can declare a national monument without congressional legislation.
Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Reps. Doris Matsui, Dan Lungren and Tom McClintock, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar need to step up to this challenge. They could bring together the federal, state and local agencies, plus various citizens groups (Friends of the River, Protect American River Canyons, Save the American River Association, Placer Land Trust and a host of other groups) to forge a solution.
The increasingly orphaned public lands in the American River corridor, and the public who enjoys them, deserve better than the current uncertainty.