TAHOE/TRUCKEE " A state budget proposal to close 220 California State Parks " including all parks in Truckee and Tahoe " could hurt the ever-important local tourism industry.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has recommended eliminating $70 million in parks spending by closing 220 of 279 parks through June 30, 2010 as part of his proposal to close a $24.3 billion deficit. If closed, parks would remain open through Labor Day, however. Area State Parks include Burton Creek, D.L. Bliss, Donner Memorial, Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point, Emerald Bay, Kings Beach state Recreation Area, Tahoe State Recreation Area and Ward Creek.
"It could have an absolutely devastating impact on our community," said Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council. "It's what people come to the Sierra Nevada for."
In a survey done in 2002, state parks brought $6.5 billion in revenue to private businesses across the state from tourism, said Pam Armas, California State Parks Sierra District Superintendent, and the Truckee-Tahoe area is particularly influenced by park visitors.
"If you look at all our campgrounds, and think of each as a hotel room, we bring in more people than any other one facility in the basin," Armas said.
The Sierra District of California State Parks records 700,000 visitors annually, Armas said.
That means $2.35 recieved in economic activities in communities surrounding parks for every dollar spent on California State Parks, according to Marguerite Sprague, executive director of the Sierra State Parks Foundation.
Lynn Saunders, chief executive officer of the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce, said she agrees the effect on tourism would be substantial.
"In the visitor center we sent thousands to the state park every year, we are constantly getting people coming in looking for the state park "-and not just in the summer, year round," Saunders said. "I really hope the public causes enough stir to stop this."
On top of the effect on tourism, Armas said that the cut would mean the loss of most of 65 permanent employees and 200 seasonal employees in the Truckee-Tahoe area.
All this means that even as the national economy shows signs of recovery, the Truckee-Tahoe region will still be struggling because of state budget effects on key revenue from visitors, Frisch said.
"The state is going to counter-act national recovery," Frisch said. "That's terrible for a state that should be leading the way."
Looking strictly at revenue for California State Parks, Armas said the Sierra District brings well over $1 million " but that doesn't completely cover the cost of operations.
"The parks that will be saved are those that are either specially funded or make well and above in revenue the costs of operations," Armas said. "None of the parks in the Sierras are in that category."
If closed, all public access will be barred in the area State Parks, Armas said.
"We'd have to turn away everybody," Armas said. "There could be squatters, homeless, or illegal activity."
But the problem isn't just whether or not to close some State Parks, Frisch said, it's the California budget as a whole.
"The point is the California budget crisis and fiscal mismanagement has lead us to the most draconian of choices between evils," Frisch said. "It's a budget that doesn't have revenue for health and human services."
Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, R-Clovis, said the state can't afford to subsidize state parks at a time when lawmakers are being asked to make severe cuts to health care, seniors services, education and prisons.
"Parks are just not going to be a priority over public safety and education, as much as we hate to see them close," Villines said.
" The Associated Press contributed to this report
Those interested in finding out more, or in voicing an opinion on the potential state park closures, can go to www.calparks.org/takeaction.