Tight budget crimps campers?

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

Delays and closures of campgrounds at New Melones reservoir are easing, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation representatives said visitors should expect a typical season this year at the popular lake.

New Melones Park Manager Alex Michalek and Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero said this week that the previously-closed Manzanita campground at the Tuttletown area and Ironhorse campground at Glory Hole are both completely open.

The Acorn campground will remain closed at Tuttletown, and Chamise Campground, Oak Knoll Group Campground and Heron Point Day Use Area are either closed or under winter hours still. At Glory Hole, the same is true for the Big Oak Campground, Angels Creek Boat Launch and Osprey Point Day Use Area.

Lucero said that the department has approved the park to hire at least half of the seasonal staff, which is typically about 14 people. If that can be done quickly, Lucero said they hope to have the recreation areas at the reservoir operating at normal capacity for Memorial Day weekend.

"I think once we open it completely I don't think you're going to see any changes from what you would normally see in the summer," Lucero said Thursday.

The announcement comes about two weeks after the Bureau of Reclamation announced it would delay the spring start of campground operations and hold off hiring seasonal staff due to $85 billion in federal cuts that went into effect in March. At the time, New Melones officials had applied to receive at least some of its funding for a seasonal staff who help run the park's amenities and programs during the busiest months.

The Bureau of Reclamation is one of three federal agencies that manages outdoor destinations in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, the others being the National Park Service at Yosemite at the U.S. Forest Service in the Stanislaus National Forest.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in February outlined likely cuts to the Forest Service budget in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee. In the letter, Vilsack stated that national forests could see as many as 670 of 19,000 recreational sites around the country close and dozens of law enforcement rangers laid off because of $78 million in management cuts.

In the letter, he also states that the sequestration will likely result in $134 million in fire management cuts, including 200,000 fewer acres of planned fire fuel treatment and cutting back on fire engines and crews.

There are 142 recreation sites in the Stanislaus National Forest, including 47 campgrounds with 1,514 campsites.

The most recent visitation estimates for the forest total more than 1.8 million annual visitors.

Sequestration impacts are also expected this year at Yosemite National Park.

The park could delay road openings, reduce staff, cut guided ranger programs at Wawona and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, eliminate a program in which 3,500 volunteers provide 40,000 hours of activities and conduct less frequent trash pickup due to loss of campground staff.

The Union Democrat
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