Melones camping season delayed

Written by Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat April 04, 2013 10:55 am

New Melones Reservoir operators will refrain from hiring park rangers and delay the spring start of campground operations due to federal budget cuts that went into effect last month — the “sequestration.” 

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Central California Area Office said Wednesday that winter hours will remain in effect and its recreation areas that closed for winter will not reopen until further notice.

At Tuttletown, that includes the Manzanita and Chamise campgrounds, Oak Knoll Group Campground and Heron Point Day Use Area.

Closures at Glory Hole, in Calaveras County, include sites 9 to 22 and 70 to 79 at Ironhorse Campground, plus the Big Oak Campground, Angels Creek Boat Launch and Osprey Point Day Use Area. 

People who reserved those campsites through April 30 were refunded or relocated to open campgrounds.

Gates to recreation areas will open at 4 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. daily.

The museum and visitor center will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Both facilities have historically been open seven days a week between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day.

New Melones staff will place all new requests for educational programs and all new land-use authorization requests on a waiting list. Staff will, however, continue to process use permits for events with fewer than 100 participants.

“This is what we can manage with the available staff,” Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero said. 

According to Lucero, New Melones doesn’t have enough employees to transition into its busier season. 

“We kind of need to retain our winter operations,” he said.

The Bureau of Reclamation asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to allow New Melones to hire more people but has not yet received an exemption.

The lake has not laid off existing employees or asked them to take furlough days, Lucero said.

The lake has not raised prices in light of recent budget cuts, according to Lucero. 

“We’re not in the business of making a profit,” he said. “We’re in the business of providing a service to the taxpayer.”

New Melones asks for volunteers each year to staff the visitor center and museum and serve as campground hosts.

“It’s not out of the ordinary to see volunteers on our staff,” Lucero said. 

This season, volunteers could help the recreation area open the visitor and museum on a daily basis, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Nanci Sikes was not surprised to hear the news but concerned about the impacts it could have on tourism during summer when more people want to visit recreation areas to go camping, hiking, swimming and boating.

“I think this is the tip of the iceberg if we don’t get some resolution to all the issues that are going on in Washington, D.C. right now,” she said. “We knew that recreation areas are one thing that they would look at.”

Calaveras County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lisa Boulton was disappointed that there will be fewer recreation options for visitors but said the county is fortunate to have a slew of other well-serviced recreation areas.

“I don’t think the sequester will be affecting a lot more of Calaveras County and we do have a bustling tourism economy so we’re pretty lucky that way,” she said.

Lucero said New Melones is a very popular destination in the summer and “well-loved” by its visitors.

“We’re hoping that we can get through this as quickly as possible,” he said.