By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
To offset spending cuts forced by the California budget crisis, visitors to Calaveras Big Trees and other state parks will pay a little more to hike and camp as of July 1.
Day-use rates at Big Trees will rise from $4 to $6. Camping fees of $12 to $15 will jump to $14 to $19, depending on the season. Seniors, veterans and the disabled will still get in for free.
The announcement is important now, said California State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns, because today is the first day campers can make reservations for July.
The decision comes as state park officials were forced to either raise fees or close about 100 parks to make up for a $15 million shortfall in the department's operating budget, Stearns said.
The charges will also generate about $2 million for backlogged park maintenance and $1 million to hire employees to collect the fees.
"You can't love prices going up, but you can hate closing parks," Stearns said.
Entrance to Railtown 1897 in Jamestown and Columbia State Historic Park will remain free, Stearns said.
The price of train rides at Railtown will not go up.
The decision to keep parks open was made to support small-town businesses as well as provide travelers places to pop their tents.
Closing parks "would shut off a huge amount of revenue that goes to local communities," Stearns said. "That's just not acceptable."