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Campground closures in eastern Plumas County

Delaine Fragnoli
Managing Editor

Finding a camping spot in Eastern Plumas this summer could prove challenging, and local tourism providers could suffer, as a result of several planned campground closures.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR) announced Jan. 25 that Plumas-Eureka State Park (PESP) would be partially closed this summer for a hazardous materials cleanup. Although some areas of the park will remain open, the campground, museum and other selected sites will be closed temporarily.

That closure will be exacerbated because the Plumas National Forest plans to close two of the three campgrounds at Lake Davis for water system upgrades. A local contractor will install new pipes at Grasshopper Flat and Grizzly campgrounds, which are on the same system. The project uses American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

At the state park, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is leading the cleanup of toxic materials, primarily arsenic, lead and mercury left over from the days when the site was a working gold mine.

The work will begin in the spring as soon as weather conditions allow and will proceed through the fall. If the cleanup finishes ahead of schedule, state parks will reopen portions as soon as feasible.

The campground is scheduled to be treated first, so that camping can resume.

ReserveAmerica will contact campers with reservations and offer to transfer those reservations to another date or anther park, pending availability. If reservations cannot be transferred, customers will receive a full refund.

Larry Fites of the Plumas Eureka State Park Association (PESPA) said his group hopes the work will “go faster rather than slower.” Fites said the association’s hugely popular Gold Discovery Days, usually scheduled the third weekend of July, was in a “holding pattern. We hope to have some vestige of the event.”

Suzi Brakken of the Plumas County Visitors Bureau called news of the closures “disturbing.”

“Obviously, we don’t want a poisonous park, but that campground is one of our most popular, best-loved campgrounds.”

She said the visitors bureau stands ready to help displaced campers find suitable alternatives in Eastern Plumas.

Judy Schaber, recreation officer for the Beckwourth Ranger District, said other sites at Lake Davis would be open this summer. “Lightning Tree Campground will be open, and we have about 40 overflow campsites with limited amenities for a reduced price.”

While Brakken said she understood the need in both cases, the timing is “unfortunate. I wish it didn’t have to happen the same summer.”

She noted that camping is very popular in Plumas County — it’s the number one page view on the bureau’s website.

In addition to the displaced campers, Brakken worries about the larger impact on the tourism economy. The state park attracts about 50,000 visitors a year.

Transient occupancy tax is collected at the Forest Service campgrounds but not at the state park campground, according to staff at the Plumas County Tax Collector.

The larger impact will be on the restaurants, retail shops, gas stations and grocery stores in the area, said Brakken.

This summer’s shutdown comes after the fully booked campground was closed last August, when a plague-carrying rodent was discovered at the park. That closure occurred immediately before the Railroad Days weekend, but officials were able to reopen the campground in time for the fully booked Labor Day weekend.

The park has a history of plague outbreaks. Such an outbreak closed the park in 1992-93, and in 1976 a 6-year-old girl contracted the plague after being bitten by a flea in the park.

In recent years, the park has faced another threat: closure because of state budget cuts. In 2008, it made then-Gov. Schwarzenegger’s list of 28 parks to shutter. But locals protested en masse to save the county’s only state park. The California parks department said it received more letters regarding PESP than any other park. The closure was averted — for the time being. But under Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal, state parks are once again on the chopping block in Sacramento. A list of proposed closures is expected by mid-February.

While future funding remains uncertain, local groups agree that this summer’s cleanup is necessary. PESPA, the Eastern Plumas Chamber of Commerce, The Sierra Fund and Trout Unlimited supported the 2009 grant application that is funding the remediation work.

The California Department of Conservation, CDPR and the Department of Toxic Substances Control collaborated on the grant under the EPA’s Brownfield Program.

The $600,000 grant is actually three $200,000 grants, each for a particular site in the park: the Jamison Creek Day-Use Area picnic site, the historic Powerhouse site and the ADA-accessible site. Grant funds will also be used for planning and community outreach activities.

According to the EPA, the park sites have “elevated levels of hazardous substances from former mining activities.” Visitors to the sites may be exposed to the tailings by direct contact (contact with skin), inhalation of dust or ingestion (if children or adults directly consume the soil).

Tailings that erode into adjacent Jamison Creek may cause environmental impacts. The EPA rates nearby sections of the Middle Fork Feather River as “impaired.”

The cleanup plan proposes to cover contaminated soils with a filter fabric and then approximately one foot of clean soil. In some areas, contaminated soils may be removed and disposed of in hazardous waste landfills. The portion of the day-use area that may erode into Jamison Creek will be stabilized and replanted.



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