January 10, 2008

Budget slashes impact two desert parks

Sacramento Bureau

Mitchell Caverns walkway

SACRAMENTO - Gov. Schwarzenegger released a spending plan Thursday that would slash money for schools, close several Inland state parks and release thousands of prisoners early to solve an estimated $14.5 billion shortfall over the next 18 months.

Parks Hit

Under governor's budget plan, three of 10 Inland state parks would be closed indefinitely and Mount San Jacinto State Park would lose one of its two campgrounds near Idyllwild.

The desert park closures would be the Salton Sea State Recreation Area on the east side of the desert lake; and Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, known for its Mitchell Caverns, the only limestone caverns in the state park system.

Coleman said the parks would be mothballed until there is enough funding to reopen them. They won't be sold, she said.

Terry Wold, conservation coordinator for the Inland chapter of the Sierra Club, said the proposal would generate widespread criticism from hikers, campers, mountain bikers and equestrians.

"They keep cutting us off more and more," she said. "I don't even know what to say."

Some Republicans were suspicious that the proposal to close the parks, a tiny piece of a $101 billion general fund, is meant to generate support for a tax increase.

"I'm not buying that the sky is falling. The first blush of this may be more politics than practical reality," said Assemblyman John J. Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes.