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October 4, 2013

Shutdown limits Valley camping, fishing plans

If you have camping or fishing plans for this weekend, check before heading to the campground or lake because they could be closed.

If you have camping or fishing plans for this weekend, check before heading to the campground or lake because they could be closed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Sacramento District said Friday that 10 parks will be closed starting Sunday due to the federal government shutdown that is into its fifth day.

The Sierra National Forest and Sequoia National Forests closed campgrounds Friday.

The good news: Lakes owned by utility companies -- Bass, Shaver and Huntington, for example -- and those run by the state -- Millerton, San Luis -- remain open.

But there are far more closures. Pine Flat Lake, Eastman Lake and Hensley Lake in Madera County and Lake Kaweah and Success Lake in Tulare County -- all will be closed as of Sunday. Campers in the parks will have to leave campgrounds no later than 2 p.m.

And 102 camping reservations will need to be canceled in the Corps' Sacramento region.

Fishing and boating also will stop, said Robert Kidd, spokesman for the Corps.

"There's no fishing from the shore, no day use and no camping. The parks are closed," Kidd said. "That's the overall message, sadly: The parks are closed."

Fall is prime fishing time and fishermen are not happy at having favorite fishing spots closed.

"A lot of really good fishing lakes have been taken off the table, at least temporarily," said Roger George, who writes "Roger's Remarks," a weekly fishing column in The Bee.

Meanwhile, the Sierra National Forest and Sequoia National Forest -- while remaining open -- have closed established campgrounds, forcing people to make other arrangements.

Eric Mart, president of California Land Management, a Palo Alto company which operates campgrounds in the Sierra National Forest, said he was told to close all camping sites by noon Friday. Refunds will be available to those with reservations, he said.

The order encompasses thousands of campsites and will cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost camping fees, he said.

Mart said he can't understand the government's decision to shutter the campgrounds. Camper fees pay for operation of the sites and his company receives no federal appropriation that could be tied to the budget stalemate, he said. "We haven't even gotten an explanation on how they're able to do this to us."

Campground concessionaires have private-use permits -- similar to contracts -- with the Forest Service, said Marily Reese, executive director of the National Forest Recreation Association. The Woodlake-based organization represents companies nationwide that manage campgrounds, marinas and resorts.

In 2011, when the Forest Service came close to being caught in a similar government shutdown, the decision was made to keep campgrounds open because they didn't take federal funding, Reese said. She's confused by the closures this time, she said.

It's lost revenue for the concessionaires and disappointment for campers. Campgrounds in the fall are busy with weddings, family reunions and fishing festivals, she said.

Only scattered camping is available now at non-concessionaire managed sites in the national forest, said Dave Martin, district ranger for the Sierra National Forest. "We're in the middle of (deer) hunting season and a lot of hunters are out there camping."

Trails also remain open.

There are too many roads leading into national forests to gate every entrance, Martin said.

While the forests remain accessible, there are only limited services, he said. Emergency response crews, such as fire and law enforcement, are working, but unknown numbers of other Forest Service employees have been furloughed.

A notice on the Sequoia National Forest website details the breadth of the closures: "Due to the lapse in agency funding, the sale of all types of permits (i.e., recreation, firewood, forest products, mineral materials for example) are suspended, reservations are suspended, and all federally owned recreation sites are closed. All offices are closed. These services will be available once funding is restored."

Already, the central San Joaquin Valley's two national parks, Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon, have been shuttered. Friday, frustration over that led to a protest outside the entrance to Sequoia National Park.

Three Rivers motel owner Dennis Villavicencio, who organized the protest, said: "We went from sold to one-third occupancy overnight."

He said he has lost thousands of dollars in revenue from his two motels, the Buckeye Tree Lodge and Sequoia Village Inn.

"We're sending a message to Washington, D.C.," he said. "Set aside partisan politics and stop behaving like spoiled children and open our national parks."

In forest land, campground closures have caused an equal amount of public consternation.

Mike Nolen, who works in the Bass Lake Ranger District -- and is on furlough -- thought he was all set for this Saturday's Grizzly Century Ride, a bicycle ride around Bass Lake that he organizes. Nolan had reserved a Forest Service campground by the lake for 20 to 40 campers coming from all over California.

"It was quite a scramble" to find an alternative site, Nolen said. But campers will be pitching tents on the ballpark outfield at the recreation center in North Fork, he said.

Losing campers at Bass Lake is a blow to businesses, said Leslie Cox, owner of the Forks Resort and president of the Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Campers buy ice and groceries and eat in restaurants, she said. Luckily, the season will end in another week, she said. "It would have been a nightmare if that had been in the middle of the summer. It would have killed the economy of the whole mountain community."

For more information

Camping reservations at U.S. Army Corps of Engineer parks and at national forests can be canceled for a full refund. customers can call (877) 444-6777. Customers who made reservations directly with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office should contact that office.

Information about the park closures: Army Corps of Engineers or at the Corps' Sacramento district webpage.

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