Non-profits want to take over Palomar Mountain park to prevent closure

by on August 2, 2011 · 1 comment

in California, Environment, San Diego

Doune Pond at Palomar Mountain State Park.

Editor: Here are a couple articles about Palomar Mountain State park. Please scroll down for the second post about hiking in the park. And here’s our post about the little savings the State would have if it closed the park.

San Pasqual Battlefield park also scheduled to be closed.

By Michael Gardner / SignOnSanDiego / August 1, 2011

There is growing community interest in acquiring the keys to two parks in San Diego County that the governor plans to padlock next year.

Organized groups have launched preliminary talks with state parks officials with hopes of saving Palomar Mountain and San Pasqual Battlefield parks if pending legislation passes to permit nonprofits to take over campgrounds, museums and forests.

But running parks is about more than collecting entrance fees and selling T-shirts. Applicants must convince the state that they have sizable sums of money, a long-term commitment and considerable skills to do everything from fixing toilets to managing crews.

Nevertheless, leaders of independent campaigns to rescue Palomar Mountain and San Pasqual Battlefield are determined to try.

 “Palomar is just a very special place of paradise … It’s a park that offers a lot of natural wonders for families,” said John Summers, a Los Angeles resident who grew up on the mountain and plans to retire there,

 Down in the San Pasqual Valley, volunteers for years have staged popular annual re-enactments of a bloody 1846 battle fought during the U.S.-Mexican War. They also host a living history day on the first Sunday of each month from October through June and help out as docents and caretakers for the park.

 “It’s one of the most important sites in early California history,” said Tom Cook, a Rancho Bernardo resident and member of the San Pasqual Battlefield Volunteer Association.

 The two parks are among 70 statewide targeted by Gov. Jerry Brown in his campaign to cut billions in spending. The closures will help save the state an estimated $22 million through June 30, 2013.

Not everyone is convinced those savings will materialize. First of all, there is the immediate costs of shuttering the facilities. Then, the state will still have the costs to occasionally patrol the areas, control vandalism and fix sewer and water systems that may fall into disrepair.

Moreover, nearby communities and the state will lose the jobs and tax revenue when visitors no longer show up to buy a souvenir, go out to eat or spend the night in a motel.

 “The more I delve into this issue the more I am convinced that closing parks will cost the state far more than any nominal cost savings,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

 Huffman is carrying legislation that would authorize state parks to turn over properties to nonprofits as long as certain conditions are met. His measure sailed through the Assembly and is now before the Senate Appropriations Committee chaired by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego.

Without Assembly Bill 42 becoming law, nonprofits across the state will not be able to assume control of parks, such as Palomar Mountain and San Pasqual Battlefield.

There may be another option, at least for Palomar. Park Superintendent Nedra Martinez has had preliminary discussions with her federal counterparts at the surrounding Cleveland National Forest about turning operations over to them.

 “We’ve had basic conversations, but nothing is in place yet,” Martinez said.

 Meanwhile, Martinez has been talking with Summers and several mountain community residents floating a bid to run the park, which sits the shadow of the world-famous Palomar Observatory. The park drew 142,746 campers and day use visitors during the 2009-10 budget year.

“We are very serious,” said Summers, who has retained a grant writer and is awaiting specifics from the state about what it needs, from liability insurance to maintenance.

 “The state doesn’t know what to expect. We don’t know what to expect. It’s fresh ground,” added Summers, who already has a nonprofit in place.

 He believes that a combination of grants and ongoing camping and day use fees will cover expenses.

There are other complications. San Diego city schools lease a youth camp on state park land and owns the buildings. Plus, a church center relies on a park road for access to its center on private land.

Ronnie Lee Clark, chief of state parks in the Southern California division, agreed that the state has much work to do sorting out what will be required. Officials are still developing contract guidelines, which could vary park by park.

 “It’s a little ahead of the game for me to tell you the exact mechanism,” said Clark, the former San Diego state parks superintendent.

 What’s clear, however, is applicants will have to prove they have the capital needed.

 “Absolutely we’re going to need to look at that,” Clark said.

 It cost the state nearly $300,000 in direct, on-the-ground costs for Palomar in the 2010-11 budget year. Income from camping, day use and leases came to about $140,000, she said.

 “It would be a tremendous amount of work to keep the park open and run it effectively,” acknowledged Bonnie Phelps, a mountain resident and Realtor.

 Phelps said there are “a lot of ideas worth exploring” to raise the money to keep the gates open, such as catering to equestrians or renting out the ranger cabins to families.

 “It would benefit the people — who are the real owners of the park … It’s something we should work on to preserve for future generations,” she said.

 Without a deal in place, Palomar will close July 1 — just as the camping season hits its peak.

On that day, the historic cannon also goes silent at San Pasqual.

Cook, who has participated as a volunteer for more than 20 years, is confident they can run the park.

The park and museum are open only on weekends, but the volunteers would like to see expanded to five days a week. “It’s in the realm of possibility,” he said.

The state estimates that it cost $55,106 in direct expenses but received no income because parking fees are not collected there. Attendance was estimated at 6,400 in 2010-11.

Hiking On Palomar Mountain

By Priscilla Lister / SignOnSanDiego / July 31, 2011

Some of the most magnificent oak trees in the entire county flank the French Valley Trail in Palomar Mountain State Park.

These amazing giants — some with a circumference that must measure at least 30 feet around — have undoubtedly witnessed hundreds of years of life on top of Palomar Mountain, from the time when the Luiseno people came here each fall to harvest the acorns of these canyon live oaks as well as those of the coast live oaks and black oaks that abound here.

The ancient oaks aren’t the only attraction on this trail. As it winds through French Valley and then Doane Valley, the views across the bunch-grass meadows — natural preserves — to the rising hills covered by evergreen trees are simply beautiful.

Get up there sooner rather than later.

You’ve surely heard that Palomar Mountain State Park is one of 70 state parks slated to be closed because of California’s budget problems.

The park may be closed during weekdays as early as late July, reopening on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. But by July 2012, the park is scheduled to be closed entirely, according to Nedra Martinez, superintendent of Palomar Mountain and Cuyamaca Rancho state parks.

There are efforts to stop the closure — there’s a proposed Assembly Bill 42, supported by the California State Parks Foundation, that would stop closure of the state parks by allowing agreements between the Department of Parks and Recreation with nonprofit organizations to care for the parks, and even a Save Palomar Mountain State Park Facebook page.

But if the closures stand, gates will go up and Palomar Mountain State Park’s trails will be off limits to the public.

It has been said that Palomar possesses one of the few Sierra Nevada-like atmospheres in Southern California. With elevations rising to about 6,000 feet, its plentiful pine, cedar and fir trees make it a true mountain experience.

But the oaks are the awesome trees here.

You’ll be dwarfed by them pretty early on the French Valley Trail that leaves from the Doane Valley campground.

The French Valley Trail intersects soon with the Doane Valley Nature Trail. Continue to the right on the French Valley Trail.

You’ll soon come to the first oak grove that graces both sides of this trail. While some of these specimens are impressive with their large spreading, horizontal branches, they are juniors compared to the ones still ahead.

Emerging into a clearing with views of conifers ahead, the trail hits another intersection, this time with the Lower Doane Valley Trail. Stay to the right on the French Valley Trail; you’ll come back via that Lower Doane Valley Trail later.

Soon you’ll pass through a lot of bracken ferns that make the ground really green in summer. These ferns turn yellow in fall. They were prized food when young by the Luisenos, according to the Doane Valley Nature Trail guide.

Look for the member of the mint family, called Heal All, with its blue-purple flower tips; its medicinal properties have been used ever since the time of the Luisenos.

The next grove of oaks is nothing short of astonishing. These canyon live oaks are huge. Some wind their roots around enormous boulders, adding to the otherworldly atmosphere.

Then you’ll reach the meadows, abloom with tiny white forget-me-nots and yellow rock roses. At points, the grasses are so thick they almost obscure the trail.

Among these protected meadow grasses is an herb called Horkelia clevelandii, or Cleveland’s Horkelia, a member of the rose family. On this single plant, the endangered Laguna Mountains Skipper butterfly lays its eggs. This butterfly is found only in the high mountain meadows of Palomar and Laguna. I saw lots of colorful, variously patterned butterflies, so maybe one of these skippers was among them.

The French Valley Trail eventually ends near its meeting with French Creek. To make this trail a loop, join the intersection near that end with the Lower Doane Valley Trail and hike back to the campground.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

annagrace August 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm

No new taxes! Privatize government functions. Kiss the public commons goodbye.


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