Discussions regarding the potential closure of the Mono Lake State Tufa reserve continue to evolve. During a visit from Senator Ted Gaines last Monday, members of the Mono Lake Committee, as well as opposing members of the community who don’t believe the park needs to remain “open” to continue to function, pled their cases to the Senator in hopes that he would take their messages back to the state capitol.
During a morning coffee session with Gaines, local lawyer Katie Maloney Bellomo explained that Mono Lake doesn’t need to be a part of the 20 parks that might be saved if Governor Jerry Brown signs AB 42 because the area already has a huge federal presence.
She pointed out that the Mono Basin Scenic Area and the State Tufa Reserve are two separate things.
“All of the facilities are above state land,” Bellomo said. “They are part of the Scenic Area owned by the feds.
“The distrust [with the Mono Lake Committee] is enormous,” Maloney continued. “The Committee has been angling behind the scenes to be part of the agreement [the operating agreement that would come out of AB 42]. We really just want to make sure that if someone is going to take over the park through AB 42 that it is vetted through the community first.”
Many have voiced their opinions that the Forest Service should be the agency to enter into the operating agreement with the state if the governor signs AB 42.
“We’re open at looking at things but our capacity is limited,” explained District Ranger for the Mammoth and Mono Lake Ranger Districts Jon Regelbrugge in a phone interview. “We do, however, have services in the Mono Basin, but we would have to see what a closure looks like and have more information before we could commit to anything.”
Regelbrugge plans to attend the stakeholders meeting on Oct. 6 (see calendar), where other entities such as the Mono County Board of Supervisors will gather to discuss ways that all local agencies may be able to come together to help the Reserve. He did, however, feel that running things like the interpretive programs (something the state does now) at Mono Lake could be something that is completely suited for the Mono Lake Committee.
Geoff McQuilkin, Executive Director of the Mono Lake Committee, stands by the big picture goal of simply getting the Reserve off the list of state park closures.
“The idea is to save the state park and keep the resources protected,” McQuilkin explained. “The real question is to determine how parks are going to operate in the future.”
AB 42 will only be part of the solution and will only be available to 20 parks, anyway. The entire situation with state parks is just a precursor to changes in the way the state runs in the future. With that in mind communities must think completely outside of the box, as Retired State Park Ranger Janet Carle has already begun to do.
Carle’s idea is to simply add $1 to the entry fee at Bodie State Park, which would be put into a fund for Mono Lake that would make up the state’s deficit for running the park.
“Currently Bodie charges $7,” Carle explained. “Five dollars goes to the state but $2 goes to the Bodie Foundation to support that park. If we added one more dollar it could be earmarked for a Mono Lake fund.”
With approximately 250,000 visitors to Bodie each year, this small fee could easily add up to the approximately $85,000 the state currently spends on the Reserve’s operations, Carle added.
Another idea being tossed around is to charge a small parking fee at the Old Marina Site at Mono Lake.
“So if you paid $8 at Bodie this would also get you into the Old Marina Site at Mono Lake for no extra charge,” Carle said. “If you didn’t buy the day pass at Bodie you would just pay the parking fee. It would also encourage more visits to the park and visitors would feel like they were getting something for the extra $1.”
“It would be a way of looking at Bodie and Mono Lake as sister parks, which they kind of are already,” McQuilkin said, seeing as how they already share a park ranger. The fee structure is still in preliminary discussions but it would be a way to keep things running as usual. The need for AB 42 would disappear for Mono Lake and those that are uncomfortable with the possibility of the Mono Lake Committee entering into an operating agreement with the state wouldn’t have to worry.
“AB 42 is not the only way to go forward, it’s just one option,” McQuilkin said.
Nothing, however, at this time is set in stone. The governor has until Oct. 6 to sign AB 42, and even after that it is unclear how the 20 parks that would be able to use the legislation would be chosen. Gaines, however, did promise the concerned members of the community that he and his staff would help coordinate the public meeting they requested if the governor does sign AB 42.
“My people can help coordinate it so it is done in a transparent way,” Gaines said.