Nonprofits save Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve from closure

 In Environment

Mono Lake and tufa towers, photo by Christine Sculati

In an announcement on December 1, 2011, the Mono Lake Committee based in Lee Vining, California, spread the news that the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve will remain open to the public.

After a six-month grassroots public effort, this world-famous reserve is now among four parks to be removed from the infamous May 2011 list of 70 state parks to be permanently closed by July 1, 2012. The National Parks Service rescued three other northern California parks in October.

Solutions in the works to “save” a few parks on the state closure list have been as varied as the landscapes of the parks themselves. At Mono Lake, petrified, calcium-rich springs called tufa towers and an otherworldly landscape in between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin Desert draw over a quarter million visitors per year. New parking fee revenues will save public access.

Mono Lake terrain map

The Bodie Foundation, a nonprofit California State Parks cooperating association, will operate the new fee collection system. The Bodie Foundation is named for Bodie State Historic Park, a popular ghost town 20 miles northeast of Mono Lake near the Nevada border.

Bodie Foundation officials signed a concession contract with California State Parks to authorize the nonprofit to collect fees to pay operating expenses in the reserve.

Gull near Mono Lake's west shore

With this solution, the California State Parks agency will continue to manage the Mono Lake State Natural Reserve. The parking fee will be put into place at the state’s major west shore visitation site — Old Marina — and all funds collected will be used to offset operating expenses at the Mono Lake Reserve. On the south shore of the lake, a self-service fee station already collects parking revenue for visitation to the famous tufa towers in the South Tufa area.

While removing a park like Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve from the state park closure list is positive news, the “saved” parks will continue to rely on nonprofit partners like the Mono Lake Committee to organize volunteers and raise support for educational programs and trail maintenance. It remains to be seen how the state will handle millions of dollars in deferred maintenance costs.

“We must all stand up and find solutions to protect the places we love.” ~ Robert Hanna, Mono Lake champion and great-great-grandson of John Muir

Blog series
This is the 14th article in a series on threats to California State Parks and the search for sustainable funding.

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