Saving state parks facing closure

FRESNO, Calif.

The hum of speedboats died down Monday at Millerton Lake as families started clearing out from a long holiday weekend. The state recreation area had filled to capacity, with hundreds of people staying at its 148 campsites.

In all, Californians reserved about 10,000 campsites this weekend at the 278 state parks. But campers may soon find their choices far more limited. State budget woes could force 70 parks to close by July 1.

"We stay in a lot of state parks up and down California," said Paul Weas, of Lemoore. "We go to Yosemite quite often, some of the other parks -- state parks over on the coast, so we'd really be sad to see some of them shut down."

The campgrounds at Millerton Lake are not on the chopping block, but several in the North Valley are, and campers here say that would be a big shame because the state would be losing some of its jewels.

"A lot of people don't get out and see what a lot of them are like," Weas said. "You really have to get out and lay your eyes on them to see how nice they are."

The state could literally lose jewels at the California Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa County. Turlock Lake, McConnell, and George Hatfield are other state parks in the valley that could become extinct. But the endangered parks have friends in high places. Republican and Democratic state legislators have found a rare area of agreement on helping the parks department make up a $22 million shortfall.

"It concerns me," said Assm. Henry T. Perea, (D) Fresno. "State parks are one of the few places where middle class families and poor families can still go to for recreation."

Perea is keeping an eye on two bills with creative solutions to cover the deficit, especially an assembly bill. It would give tax incentives for buying annual park passes, and introduces a new state parks vanity license plate -- playful solutions for the state's playgrounds.

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