Opposition to camping at Tomales Bay park

David Briggs
A campground at Hearts Desire that was shut down in the last decade could be rehabilitated in efforts to generate revenue, though several locals adamantly opposed the idea at a meeting on Tuesday.  
08/15/2013

About 15 people convened on Tuesday afternoon in Point Reyes Station to consider the financial future of Tomales Bay State Park, which had its funding slashed along with numerous other parks in recent recession years. 

Attendees quickly dismissed the primary suggestion made by representativea from the park’s nonprofit operator to solve a pressing monetary quandary by restoring and expanding a defunct campground.

Current coffers can maintain operations in Tomales Bay, which runs at a roughly $200,000 annual budget, for two years, but a plan for future financial solvency needs to be settled on before time runs out, Ernest Chung, a representative of the Marin State Parks Association, said.

The park’s only source of generated income comes from day usage, including fees for parking, special events and picnics. Those fees that at their peak generate $95,000, or roughly half the park’s budget, according to Mr. Chung.

Some attendees voiced concerns that there had been inadequate awareness that the park had been operated by the nonprofit since March.

“I don’t remember receiving any notice,” said Amy Trainer, the executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. Mr. Chung responded that there had been an attempt to hold a meeting on this issue earlier this year but he had difficulties rallying people.

In March, the nonprofit Marin State Parks Association became the official operator of Tomales Bay State Park. Although two National Park Service rangers this year were funded with state money, the association holds financial responsibility for the park. There are plans to return that responsibility to the state, but Mr. Chung said that likely won’t happen anytime soon, as attempts to transfer it have already hit hiccups.

Others expressed frustration at the idea that the park should be almost entirely self-sufficient. “The parks are not a business. It’s a public trust,” Inverness resident Tom Baty said.

Mr. Chung replied that only 20 percent of the state’s park budget comes from tax dollars. “That number is not going up in the future,” he said, adding that there is stiff competition for that money as it stands.

But Mr. Chung’s suggestion that the park’s defunct walk-in camp sites be not only expanded but developed to allow car camping, which he said could potentially generate $75,000 a year, was met with swift rebuttals.

“Car camping is antithetical to Hearts Desire,” said Mr. Baty, noting that the discussions that contributed to the park’s 2004 general plan also refuted the idea of car camping.

That plan allows for a 15-site maximum walk-in campsite, and specifically calls for “low-impact uses that are compatible with the aesthetic of the Hearts Desire area.”

Both Mr. Chung and attendees agreed the park was not a business and that its primary purpose was to serve the people, not make money, and many fondly recounted their love of the park and the children who learned to swim off its sandy beaches.

Mr. Baty suggested a donation box at Shell Beach, which would include an explanation for the purpose of such contributions. Mr. Chung seemed a bit skeptical that this would fill the entire gap, but said it was not the operator’s intention to change the character of the park and that they would be happy to facilitate such a box.

Another attendee, Carlos Porrata, a retired ranger who worked in the park for over two decades, expressed optimism that the recovering economy could result in more public funds becoming available. Mr. Chung countered that there was $1.3 billion in high-priority maintenance in California’s state parks that was not being undertaken, leaving the possibility of returning to the days of more supportive times remote. He also said that while the funds would keep Tomales Bay State Park open until 2015, that year would come “faster than you think.”