The Mono Lake Committee (MLC) is still reeling from the shock it felt last Friday when the California State Parks Department released its list of 70 state park closures, and the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve was among the doomed.
“We were very surprised,” said MLC’s Executive Director Geoff McQuilkin. “The legal criteria for closure doesn’t fit.”
McQuilkin was referring to the 11 points (AB 95) that the state had come up with to determine which parks would close in order to fulfill Governor Jerry Brown’s budget plan of cutting $11 million from state parks to help close the budget deficit. These points include visitation rates, historical value, and costs incurred.
“The state really isn’t spending any money there,” McQuilkin said, referring to the Reserve. “It is already in reduced service operation mode, and is actually a model of how the state wants parks to run in the future.”
Currently, the Mono Lake Tufa SNR has two employees. The first, an Interpretive Specialist, is funded privately. The second, a ranger position, is shared with Bodie State Park (not on the list), and according to McQuilkin, really only spends about 1/10 of its time at Mono Lake.
“We don’t know exactly why it [Mono Lake] was chosen, so right now we are trying to figure out what happened there,” McQuilkin said. MLC’s legal representation sent a letter to Ruth Coleman, Director of Parks and Recreation on Monday requesting all documentation that led the Department to its decision to place the Mono Lake Tufa SNR on the list of closures. The letter follows-up on a letter that MLC sent to Coleman in April, outlining why Mono Lake Tufa SNR does not meet the 11 criteria for closure.
“We are hoping it was an oversight,” McQuilkin added, but the group is ready to take legal action if necessary. While it waits for an answer from the state, the MLC is focusing on getting the word out to concerned people.
Regardless of what MLC discovers in the state’s decision, Mono Lake Tufa SNR will be business as usual this summer, since the closures are not expected to begin taking effect until the fall.
McQuilkin clarified that the state is not planning to completely abandon the parks on the closure list it just plans to “mothball” them. If the state does go through with its closure of Mono Lake Tufa SNR, it would mean all state resources would be removed. A closed sign would be put up, but that doesn’t mean people couldn’t just walk past the sign.
“Of the three public, local spots at Mono Lake, two are state reserve facilities,” McQuilkin said. “If these were marked as closed, people might start walking all over the place.” This could open up the possibility of damage to areas of the reserve.
While the MLC would still be present even if the reserve were closed by the state, programs that are currently in place could go away. There would be no volunteer or interpretive programs, no concessions, and no research permits for organizations such as NASA, which often conduct work at the lake.
“Currently the Mono Lake Committee, the state and the Forest Service all support the programs at Mono Lake,” McQuilkin said. “If the state pulls out that means there would be more programs coming to us that we wouldn’t be able to afford [to run], and therefore more disappointed visitors.”
McQuilkin also pointed out that once a closure is in place and programs go away, it is difficult to rebuild those same programs.
“The word closure just scares people away entirely,” he said. “People out of the area just see it as limited options when visiting the Eastern Sierra.”
Bodie State Park is not on the list according to McQuilkin because its historical value requires that the park have a caretaker even if it is closed. If someone is already being paid to be out there then it doesn’t cost much more to keep the park open, especially since having it open means the collection of visitor entrance fees.
To find out ways that you can help keep Mono Lake Tufa SNR open, visit www.monolake.org/action.