Fed funding drop threatens Auburn State Recreation Area’s future

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Time and money is running out on Lake Clementine. The same goes for the Auburn State Recreation Area it’s located in as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation grapples with shrinking budgets. The future of Lake Clementine as a recreational boating destination is turning out to be one of many questions still left unanswered in a bigger-picture puzzle as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation ratchets down on funding in the Auburn State Recreation Area. The bureau’s continuing drop in the amount of money it’s devoting to the 26,000-acre recreation area has rallied Lake Clementine supporters to lobby for more support from elected officials in recent months. Now others are joining in as funding concerns mount and the state Parks Department begins to cut back on its planning for the riverfront wildland situated on the edge of Auburn and stretching back along the Middle Fork of the American River. The bureau’s funding has taken a dive since 2007, when $9.5 million was plugged into the recreation area. This year, the bureau is working with a $1.6 million budget and next year, it’s expected to fall to $1.4 million. Pete Lucero, spokesman for the bureau, said they’re committed to keep the recreation area open until the end of September. Talks are ongoing with both state, federal and local representatives to find ways to keep it open beyond that but nothing definite has been approved, he said. “Funding has eroded to the point where we’re not sure we can afford to manage it,” Lucero said. Funding shortfall projections led the bureau and state parks officials last month to indefinitely suspend a four-year-old planning process that would have provided the recreation area with a blueprint for future facilities and growth. That has raised the hackles of more user groups, including Protect American River Canyons of Auburn. President Tim Woodall said the bureau’s funding stance is symptomatic of a government department that is still sticking to the possibility of an Auburn dam on the site as an excuse to ignore increasing recreational demands. The area attracts more than a million visitors a year and plays host to world-class events like the Western States 100 endurance run and Tevis Cup horse ride. “More and more people are using the rivers and trails every year and there is an absolute need to commit the manpower and resources necessary to manage that use responsibly,” Woodall said. “It’s time the Auburn State Recreation Area lands be transferred to an agency that will work to develop the recreational potential of the canyons in a manner consistent with protecting natural resource values.” The recreation area is patrolled by the state Department of Parks and Recreation under contract with the bureau. The bureau – with congressional authorization to build a dam but no resolve in Washington, D.C. for more than 30 years to build it – has managed the land to preserve it from permanent construction. The land itself is an amalgam of ownership that includes the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes said meetings are ongoing with government and elected officials to sort out possible funding solutions to keep the recreation area and Lake Clementine open. As well as the loss to local businesses if areas were to close, Holmes said concerns are also being raised about higher fire danger in the canyon threatening homes and questions about keeping the area safe from crime. Holmes said one of the ways people concerned about the recreation area and its continued funding can help is to write their elected officials in both Sacramento and Washington to keep the pressure on government to find ways to retain what has been developed over several decades. “My feeling is our elected representatives try to respond to public pressure,” Holmes said.