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City assuming management of Sacramento River recreation area
Although Labor Day marked the end of summer for many people, it won't mark the end of tradition at the Colusa Sacramento River State Recreation Area.
Just one day after the holiday, when as many as 70 state parks were scheduled to be closed, Colusa officials entered into an agreement to take over operations at the park.
The closures by the state are part of a two-year $33 million budget cut.
"We were upset when we heard it was going to close," said Ken Schmitz. "We've been coming to this park for 25 years."
The Schmitz family, mostly from the Delta and Bay Area, also spends Memorial Day and the Fourth of July at the Colusa park.
"We would rather drive 125 miles to the river in Colusa than five miles to the Delta," he said.
The City Council agreed to take over maintenance and operation of the park for five years, beginning Oct. 1., but hopes eventually to concede some of the responsibilities — such as fee collection and maintenance — to a subsidiary business.
"Until then, we are going to have to do most of the work ourselves," said City Manager Jan McClintock.
The city estimates it can operate and maintain the park for about $44,000 a year.
Based on the state's expenditures record for 2010, the Colusa park was costing about $212,000, which included administration overhead in Sacramento, road allocations and other expenses, officials said.
Revenue was about $154,000, which was generated largely from use fees.
Although the state won't allow the city to make money on the endeavor, all profits could be reinvested in operations and to make improvements, city officials said.
The city has also started the process to annex the park, which is in county jurisdiction, so the city can benefit from the transient occupancy tax generated by its use.
The city did get some concession from the state on the operating agreement, including the ability to terminate the agreement with 30 days notice as opposed to one year.
Otherwise, the agreement has little wiggle room, city officials said.
"Nothing changes," said City Attorney Krysten Hicks. "It's still a state park."
Any changes the city would like to make at the park — including rates changes, new construction or modifications — must have written approval from the state, Hicks said.
The city hopes to get approval to lower the $100 group day rate in order to promote park use by local organizations and private interests, and eventually add electricity to some of the camping spots.
First time park user Sizi Fredo of Vacaville said he is looking forward to keeping Colusa as a destination place for his family and hopes the park stays open.
"It's a pretty nice park," Fredo said. "The only thing I would change is adding a fire ring. It's a tradition in our family to sit around a campfire at night. Otherwise it's a great park. If the city keeps it open, we will probably come back."
State officials referred Fredo to the Colusa park when he couldn't get reservations elsewhere for the holiday.
His family was not disappointed.
"It's a nice quiet town," said 19-year-old Carlos Fredo. "We enjoyed walking around and going down to the river."
The Schmitz family said they will always choose Colusa over anywhere else.
"It's nice clean camping," said Charlotte Schmitz. "It's a great place for kids to play. We love going into town. We go to the restaurants and we go to the movies. This time we even had to go to the hospital when (Ken's) mom fell. Everyone was so nice and very helpful."
But as longtime boaters, the Schmitz family hopes the city continues its quest for better river access.
"We can usually launch a boat in the spring, but this time of year we can't get in," said Ken Schmitz. "In 25 years, we've seen a lot of changes to the river. Even more dredging would help."
Others said a new boat launch would be great, but better river access for waders and fisherman is also needed.
"It's a little hard getting down to the river," said camper Teresa Valdez of Lincoln. "It's a nice park. I love the new walkway on levee, but it sure would be nice to sit along the river and fish."
Valdez said her family comes to the park on Labor Day and the Fourth of July when it falls on a three-day weekend.
"This is a great park," she said. "It has so much potential. I hope the city can make improvements because I think more people would use it if they do."
City officials said once the park is annexed, they will begin to address amenities and improvements.
"While we are working things through, we can keep (the park) open, which is important to everyone," McClintock said.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.