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News: 02/15/2012

Talks now on for non-profit control of Sugarloaf

A group of local non-profits can now begin direct negotiations with the state over an operating proposal they submitted close to two months ago, thanks to a move by State Parks officials to take Sugarloaf Ridge State Park off a list of parks whose operations were slated for a bidding process.

The action by the State Parks and Recreation Commission does not mean that Sugarloaf is off the permanent closure list. Due to California’s budget woes, almost 70 state parks are scheduled for closure on July 1, including Sugarloaf, Jack London, and Annadel.

What it does mean though, according to Lauren Dixon, deputy director of the parks advocacy group Parks Alliance of Sonoma County, is that this is an important step on the road to potential local control over Sugarloaf and its 2,700 acres.

Team Sugarloaf – an organization formed to keep Sugarloaf from closing – had submitted an operating proposal back in December. But State Parks officials declined to even talk with the group because the state was contemplating putting Sugarloaf’s campground concession out to a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. that Officials maintained that speaking with Team Sugarloaf before an RFP was issued could give the group an unfair advantage.

Team Sugarloaf is made up of a number of non-profits, including the Sonoma Ecology Center, Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, Sonoma County Trails Council, the Sugarloaf-based Robert Ferguson Observatory, and United Camps, Conferences and Retreats.

Legislation passed last year created a process by which non-profits could submit proposals to run parks threatened for closure. When state parks officials began proposing that concessions in some of the parks be bundled together and put out to bid, non-profits and local politicians cried foul, arguing that it would be difficult if not impossible for non-profits to compete financially with for-profit private businesses. Non-profits also argued that their proposals depended upon revenue generated from concessions such as campgrounds or food facilities, funds that would be used to help operate an entire park.

One RFP plan had Sugarloaf bundled with five other state park units, a proposal that the state’s Public Works Board said could go ahead. But the State Park and Recreation Commission and State Park staff had the final say and took Sugarloaf off the bundled list last week.

The Park Alliance’s Dixon said that it is hoped that State Parks officials will begin negotiating with Team Sugarloaf later this month.

In other local state park news, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 31 gave the OK to the county’s Regional Parks Department to begin negotiations with the state to operate the 5,000-acre Annadel State Park temporarily from July 1, 2012, through June, 2013.

Regional Parks estimates that it will cost $350,000 to run Annadel for that period, $150,000 of which has been committed by the state in funding and in-kind services, and $190,000 of which has already been raised through donations.

The supervisors voted unanimously for Regional Parks to go forward, but at the same time expressed concern about what might happen after the year of temporary management is over, and what future financial obligations might be incurred.

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