KINGS BEACH, Calif. — Uncertainty is swirling around a nearing agreement for California State Parks to take over operations of the Kings Beach State Recreation Area later this year.
Starting December 1978, the North Tahoe Public Utility District has managed the state parks-owned area under a deal with state parks that expired Dec. 5, 2008. Since then, NTPUD has continued operations on a month-to-month basis.
Late last month, NTPUD was informed by state parks of the agency’s interest in taking over in November 2014, with a draft plan to close the gate and restrooms from November to March, according to an email from Marilyn Linkem, superintendent of the Sierra District of state parks, to NTPUD Parks and Facilities Manager Tracey Towner.
However, in a recent interview with the Sierra Sun, Vicky Waters, deputy director of public affairs for California State Parks, insisted no operational decision has been made, and community input will be taken before one is.
NTPUD remains under the impression that seasonal closure is on the table due to the email and subsequent conversations, said Paul Schultz, district general manager and CEO.
The district — which keeps the rec area and its parking lot open year-round — is concerned by such a closure and is willing to assume ownership to prevent it, he said.
“If the gate is closed between November and March, the (North Tahoe Event Center) is severely compromised, visitor use will decrease, operational losses will result, and the community will suffer,” he said.
The Kings Beach rec area lot provides parking for area businesses; government meetings, events and fitness classes in the event center; and 1,700 feet of lakefront beach.
“If we can keep the facilities open and break even, then that’s the way we’d prefer to operate,” Linkem said in an interview with the Sun.
A seasonal closure — which would not include the beach, since that is public land — would reduce state parks expenses, she said. A cost estimate to operate the rec area is still being developed.
For fiscal year 2013-14 (July 1-June 30), the Sierra Park District budgeted nearly $18 million for 17 parks, including Kings Beach State Recreation Area, Waters said. The 2014-15 budget is being developed.
While she couldn’t say definitely how Kings Beach would be funded, Waters said parks statewide rely on general funds and collected fees, such as parking.
According to NTPUD, revenues from parking and the concessionaire are the only sources of funding to maintain the beach. Those who walk, ride a bike or use public transit to enter the rec area do so at no charge.
“The PUD has done a tremendous job doing maintenance and operation over the years, so it’s not a reflection on their performance,” said Patrick Wright, executive director of the California Tahoe Conservancy, which owns lands adjacent to the rec area.
The rec area does have an estimated $800,000 in deferred maintenance, not including about $600,000 in ADA improvements, Linkem said.
As part of ongoing discussions, it’s proposed the Tahoe Conservancy would help with site improvements and a vision for the rec area, while state parks would assume day-to-day operations, Wright said.
In deciding whether to take on operations, state parks is looking at what that would mean in terms of maintenance, finances, law enforcement, recreation for users, among other factors, Waters said.
“One aspect will certainly not make or break this decision,” she said.
A partnership agreement is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, Waters said.