Mono Lake: CA State Park Closure Report

26 Sep

The following California State Parks closure report comes to us from the shores of Mono Lake, written by Janet Carle, a Retired State Park Ranger and Volunteer Coordinator for the Mono Lake Volunteer Program. I had the pleasure to meet Janet in July when I was shooting the Folk4Parks video documentary. I hope you find her ‘from the trenches’ report as illuminating as I have.

Janet Carle has worked for 20+ years at Mono Lake as a State Park Ranger and Volunteer Coordinator.

The Mono Basin is a big, complicated place. Working as a Ranger at the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve for over 20 years, it was often challenging dealing with so many agencies, entities and private citizens that had a stake in what was going on.  I am now realizing just how important all those partnerships can be in these difficult times, now that our park is one of 70 parks slated to be shut down next year. The Forest Service also had to cut several seasonal positions in the middle of July when they finally got their budget update.  The handwriting is on the wall— the business model is changing, and state and federal funds are not dependable and predictable as we move into the future.

“It was often challenging dealing with so many agencies, entities and private citizens…I am now realizing just how important all those partnerships can be in these difficult times.”

Our Mono Lake State Park operation is small and lean.  It consists of one full-time ranger (working mostly at Bodie) one part-time Interpretive Specialist (funded mostly by the Bodie Foundation) and occasional help from Bodie and the Sierra District with big projects or unusual maintenance needs. Our annual budget is $86,000 per year. The park is quite large in area — 17,000 acres of lakeshore, plus 60 square miles of lake surface. 270,000 visitors come each year.  The landscape is world class and is a hub of research and science.  It has been frustrating to continually land on closure lists over the years, mainly because of minimal staff and fees collected.

Fortunately, our park is not alone. The Mono Lake Committee is a well-known non-profit group that successfully challenged Los Angeles on its water diversions from the Mono Basin , resulting in an agreement to share water with Mono Lake in 1994.  The Bodie Foundation and Friends of Mono Lake Reserve (and previously the Sierra State Parks Foundation) has provided funding for staff and projects for years as a state parks cooperating association. The Mono Lake Volunteer Program is funded by all three of the non-profit groups, and has successfully recruited over 50 volunteers to share their expertise with visitors and freely choose to work at sites run by State Parks, the Forest Service and the Mono Lake Committee Information Center.  There is a long-term Interpretive Agreement at Mono Lake between the Forest Service, State Parks and the Mono Lake Commitee.  Each partner covers one of the three daily tours of South Tufa offered in the summer.

“There are certain things that non-profit groups could certainly help with, such as fee collection and interpretation”, said Geoff McQuilkin, Executive Director of the Mono Lake Committee.  “But State Parks and the Forest Service have things only they can do in resource management , law enforcement, research and concession permits and overall responsibility.  I hope we can work together to keep the park open and find new funding sources, but also keep State Park oversight and long-term management alive”.

A meeting was held in July to share ideas and possible funding scenarios.  With the likely passage of AB 42, allowing non-profit groups to run some park operations, the possibility arises of changing the fee collection systems.  For example, it is a 2 year process for the Forest Service to raise the $3 per person fee at South Tufa, but a non-profit group, such as ESIA, could raise the fee and keep more of the money in the Mono Basin.

We are all hoping that an alternative to closing the State Reserve can be found.  Mono Lake tourism is an important part of the local economy. The Reserve is a standout among state parks as a low-cost, high-value park unit, thanks in large part to these creative cost-saving partnerships that have been fostered over the years.  Hopefully, we will find a way, working together, to continue the high quality visitor experience in the Mono Basin.

- by Janet Carle
Retired State Park Ranger
Volunteer Coordinator, Mono Lake Volunteer Program

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