Railtown helpers honored

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park supporters, who raised funds to keep the park open in the face of closure threats over the summer, were honored for their efforts Tuesday night.

The event, hosted by California Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, drew roughly 70 people to the Sonora Opera Hall. Olsen described it as a chance to recognize supporters of state parks in what has proved to be a difficult year.

"It's been a year of great frustration as many of our state parks were threatened with closure," she said in her opening address. "And we all know that not only are they important for historical preservation and recreational purposes, but they're also a tremendous economic engine for local communities."

Railtown was one of 70 state parks targeted for closure by the state Department of Parks and Recreation to shore up budget shortfalls. However, fundraisers and donations, along with some last-minute funding from the state, helped ensure the Jamestown park would stay open for two more years.

Various community groups came together when voters in June rejected a Tuolumne County lodging tax that would have potentially directed an additional $200,000 each year to the park.

Local Rotary organizations and the Sonora Area Foundation each pledged $75,000 to the effort while other groups and individuals organized fundraisers, such as a Corvette raffle in May that brought in $42,000.

"All of these folks deserve recognition for the work they've done," said Railtown Superintendent Kim Baker during an interview. "For parks to continue, their participation is essential."

Individuals called to accept certificates commemorating their work to save Railtown were: Kathy Daigle, of the California Railroad Museum, Ed Wyllie, of the Sonora Area Foundation, Shirley Sarno, of the Tuolumne County Lodging Association, John Zach, of the Twain Harte Rotary Club, George Segarini, of the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce, Cliff McCurley, of the Sonora 49er Rotary, Larry Cope, of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, Nanci Sikes, of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, County Administrator Craig Pedro, County District 5 Supervisor Dick Pland, Sonora City Administrator Tim Miller, and Olsen supporter Ty Wivell.

Olsen then called anyone in the audience who participated in keeping Railtown open to join her onstage as well, and about a dozen obliged.

Also honored at Tuesday's event were supporters of the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa and the Mono Lake Tufa Reserve.

Aaron Robertson, deputy director of the state Department of Parks Recreation, spoke at the event and answered questions from the audience regarding the future of state parks. Robertson's well-known for uncovering $54 million in hidden parks fund this summer that led to the resignations of several top officials.

The Union Democrat
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