Morro Strand State Beach in Morro Bay and Limekiln State Park in Big Sur will be closed, along with 68 other units statewide, under a plan triggered by budget cuts, State Parks announced Friday.
But those closures won’t happen for more than a year, State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns said.
“We don’t anticipate any closures for budget reasons will take effect before July 2012,” he said. “That’s when the budget with the $22 million cut strikes.”
He said there could be service reductions between now and then.
“We’re just hoping to get through the summer,” Stearns said. “We’ve never done this before, so there are lots of variables that can come up between now and July 2012.”
Stearns said the parks’ budget has gone down approximately 37 percent since 2006, and for the past 25 to 30 years, “our budget’s been mostly going down. We’ve reorganized three times. We’re at a point where all the give is gone” in financial breathing room.
This county’s cuts are hard, but they could have been much worse, according to Nick Franco, superintendent of the San Luis Obispo Coast District.
Montaña de Oro, Morro Bay and San Simeon parks, all of which include campgrounds, will remain open, Franco said, in part because they generate funds for the department. “The goal,” he said, “was to cut costs but not cut revenue.”
He explained that Limekiln State Park is remote, with 32 campsites in a canyon studded with redwoods and ruins of limekilns straddling a creek emptying into the ocean 21 miles north of the Monterey County line. The park’s operation requires a resident ranger and electricity provided by generator, and all supplies must be trucked up or down Highway 1, all of which makes it costly to operate.
According to state data for the 2007-08 fiscal year, the most recent available, Limekiln hosted 18,116 campers and 14,014 day-use visitors for total revenue of $191,307.
Morro Strand State Park had 43,835 campers and 95,037 day-use visitors, generating revenue of $246,931.
Morro Strand, with 76 campsites, “is an older park,” Franco said, “and old buildings cost more to keep open.”
Craig Schmidt of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce said the Morro Strand closure “would be pretty devastating” to the community that takes in $70 million a year from tourism.
The strand is “definitely a place we send visitors to, as a must see,” Schmidt said. “It’s such a draw, such a destination. It’s one more beautiful place to send people to so they can experience the nature we have to offer in Morro Bay.”
Schmidt said, “There are not a lot of quality camping areas on the coast,” so taking away one of those opportunities diminishes the chance to experience one more facet of Morro Bay. “I’d hate to see us lose that.”