Park fee hike keeps campgrounds open | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Park fee hike keeps campgrounds open

Tahoe Daily Tribune Staff Reports

By Jeff Munson

Tribune city editor

Facing a deficit of nearly $20 million, the choice among California State Parks officials came down to either closing about 100 of them or charging more to spend time in them.

California State Parks officials on Tuesday chose the latter, announcing that all of its 277 parks – including five in the Lake Tahoe Basin – would face fee hikes beginning July 1.

D.L. Bliss, Emerald Bay and Eagle Point Campground, Emerald Bay Boat Camp, Sugar Pine Point, and Tahoe State Recreation Area, will see day use fees climb from $4 to $6, and camping from $15 to $20 a night, with premium sites increasing from $67 to $111. Day use season passes will go up from $67 to $125.

“After repeated budget reductions we have reached the point where there is no other choice,” said State Parks Director Ruth Coleman. “This is a reasonable solution to help get the state through hard budget times. This plan keeps the system open and operating, while also keeping it as affordable as possible for all Californians.”

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The fee hike is expected to generate about $18 million. The rest of the money will come from some staff cuts and reorganization, Coleman said.

The fee hike shouldn’t keep people from visiting the basin parks, mainly because most California residents know that the state is facing tough financial times and they values its parks, said Marilyn Murphy, Tahoe sector superintendent for the parks department.

“I think people are going to pay more in order for them to have their parks opened. If we didn’t have fee increase, some parks would be closing. It is more important to have parks open and provide services than to close our parks,” Murphy said.

Still uncertain is the status of about 100 seasonal employees hired to work in the basin’s parks. The employees were let go a month early, in September, because of budget problems.

The seasonal workers do everything from greeting parkgoers and campers to cleaning bathrooms and hauling trash. If they are not hired back, the onus will fall back on regular park employees, who will work in multiple shifts to take on the added responsibilities, she added.

It also could mean fewer bathrooms opened at some of the campgrounds.

“We will do our best, but it may mean one bathroom instead of two for one loop of campgrounds,” she said.

Murphy said she would know the status of the seasonal employees by the end of January. At best, she’s hoping to get 25 of them back for the summer.

California State Park system includes 277 parks with more than 15,000 campsites, 280 miles of coastline and more than 3,000 miles of trails. With more than 85 million visitors annually, the department has seen a 34 percent increase in visitors over the past four years.

While Murphy didn’t have last year’s visitor numbers available for the basin parks, she said the campgrounds are typically full throughout the summer, with reservations being made 8 to 10 months in advance.

Of the parks, D.L. Bliss has 168 campsites, Eagle Point, 100, Emerald Bay Boat Camp, 20, Sugar Pine Point, 175 and Tahoe State Recreation Area, 38.