Sugarloaf, Jack London report on progress
Partnerships are innovative, expanding
It has been two years since citizens and local groups scrambled to keep Sugarloaf and Jack London State Historic Park open in the face of an unexpected closure order from a cash strapped State Parks Department, but today both parks are open and thriving, though not without some struggles. Both recently submitted annual operating reports to the Department, which are heartening for the foreseeable future.
While both reports show the parks operating at deficits, the private entities operating Jack London and Sugarloaf are on calendar fiscal years, not July 1 to June 30 fiscal years like state organizations, and both expect to be in the black by the time their fiscal years close at the end of December.
“We had a couple of strong summer months and we’ll be fine by year’s end,” Sugarloaf manager John Roney summed up. “We have enough in the bank from grants to cover shortfalls. If we ran a multi-year deficit we’d have a problem. The reporting year for the state doesn’t match our fiscal year, but is based on when we took over the park. We do books on calendar years and will have an accounting at the end of the year.”
Sugarloaf took in $374,000 in the 2014 state fiscal year, a 22 percent increase over the prior fiscal year, but fell short of covering all expenses by $11,500, as of the end of June.
The biggest difference in park operations for both parks has been the addition of special entertainment events, which have had significant economic impacts. Funky Fridays brought hundreds of people to Sugarloaf this summer to enjoy Bay Area musicians playing soul, jazz, blues and rock in a spectacular outdoor venue. The early evening concerts brought in more than $20,000 this season, but have had a wider impact in bringing more people to the park, sales of season passes and increased day use.
Broadway Under the Stars has brought significant income to Jack London State Historic Park. “In three years they have brought us more than $120,000,” said Tjiska Van Wick, of the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association who manages the park. That included nearly $60,000 this year, as the shows attract more patrons every year.
Sugarloaf has also sponsored special events, including fundraising hikes to Bald Mountain and a July 4 fireworks observation hike, and volunteer appreciation events, along with an Easter egg hunt at the campgrounds. They hosted 16 school field trips for K-8 students, a week-long summer science camp, and have opened and staffed an interpretive visitor center, with park information and a few items for campers.
In addition to Broadway Under The Stars, Jack London hosted Plowing Day, music concerts in the park and at the museum, a Ragtime Festival, and rented space to 22 private events.
Grants play a role in both park operations. “We are hoping they continue their support, but we will look for other sources this year. We could operate the park without grants and fundraising, but it would not be as pleasant an experience,” said Sugarloaf’s Roney.
Camping plays a significant role in Sugarloaf’s economic viability, raising over $220,000 in 2013-14. And while Jack London does not offer overnight stays, its other attractions – the Wolf House ruins, museum and farm buildings – are a powerful magnet for day-use, generating $224,000 in entrance fees for their reporting period.
Outright donations are a welcome addition, Van Wick said, acknowledging a $5,000 PG&E donation to sponsor trail programs.
“People underwrite programs because they believe in our parks,” she said. “The California State Parks Foundation has been a terrific supporter of parks on the closure list and for the non-sexy stuff. We have received wonderful support from Sonoma County, with [Supervisor] Susan Gorin and the Board of Supervisors keeping parks alive, and with events.”
While the State Parks Department is not providing direct financial support, both managers say in-kind services provide substantial assistance. These include services such as water monitoring, project analysis and approval, tree hazard reports, archaeological and cultural services, and more.
“State Parks provided $150,000 for Sudden Oak Death studies because we have a long standing issue,” Van Wick said. “The money will support a California Conservation crew, that has been removing disease-carrying madrones and trimming some oaks with the disease since September.”
“Our relationship has improved considerably,” Van Wick said, overcoming some of the early culture clashes that flared up as private groups and a big state bureaucracy pursued similar goals with widely different methods.
Danita Rodriguez, State Parks Superintendent for the Bay Area District, said there is a person on staff in charge of keeping communications among the groups open and smooth.
“We are working with the partners to all be successful,” she said.
“We are learning in our second year of operating the park,” Roney said of Team Sugarloaf, a consortium of six organizations who signed an agreement to operate the park with the State of California – the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Robert Ferguson Observatory, United Camps, Conferences and Retreats, the Sonoma County Trails Council, and the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association.
The Valley of the Moon Natural History Association (DBA Jack London Park Partners) manages Jack London State Historic Park.