Although Standish-Hickey Recreation Area near Leggett has been officially closed since the beginning of May, visitors can enjoy hiking, swimming, and camping as long as they leave their vehicles outside the park, according to Bess Bair of Team Standish.
Team Standish is a group of Leggett and Piercy residents who have been working since last December to keep Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area open under local management.
In collaboration with the Mendocino Area Parks Association (MAPA), Team Standish submitted a "partnering" proposal to California State Parks last month.
If their proposal is accepted, Team Standish, with MAPA's assistance, will be allowed to manage the park's facilities, including campgrounds, until California's budget crisis eases and State Parks can take over again.
Currently the proposal is being reviewed by Dana Jones, superintendent of State Parks' North Coast Redwoods District. Following her review the proposal will go to the state Department of Public Works for a legal review and, Team Standish hopes, approval.
In the meantime, visitors to Standish-Hickey SRA may park at the Peg House across the street from the entrance and hike on the trails or camp in the campground area closest to the entrance.
The fee for camping is $5 per person per night, and the bathrooms are open in the upper campground loop. Parking at the Peg House is free, and Peg House staff will help with visitors' questions.
Campsites are chosen on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations are available.
Bair encouraged local people as well as out-of-town visitors to come to Standish-Hickey SRA. "The swimming hole is beautiful now!" she pointed out.
In addition to enjoying the forest and the river, visitors can become the "eyes of the park," Bair said, watching for problems and alerting the appropriate authorities of conditions that need attention.
The loss of daily maintenance is already leading to deterioration, Bair noted. Local residents visit the park every day to keep an eye on things, and Team Standish planned a camp-out in the park last weekend. Their goal is to keep State Parks informed of any problems that arise and to help in any way they can as they wait for approval of their proposal.
"We are not an official group, just local citizens who want to be guardian angels, eyes of the park," she said.
Members of Team Standish have formed working groups to address the many aspects of running the park, and have recruited volunteers to do as much of the work as possible.
But managing the park also requires hiring and training paid staff, which can't be done until the group gets the go-ahead from State Parks.
"It wouldn't be so frustrating if we were not in limbo in terms of getting prepared," Bair said.
The state is considering partnerships with for-profit concessionaires as well as non-profits and local governments, and this is a huge concern for Team Standish.
Concessionaires can bid on providing camping services, which includes not only running and maintaining the campground, but also creating on-site stores selling groceries and camping supplies, thus cutting out the local businesses that rely on offering these goods to park visitors.
"That's the heartbreaking part," Bair said, adding that Leggett businesspeople who have already seen a huge decline in sales this spring are wondering if they can afford to stay in business even long enough to see Standish-Hickey open again.
Additionally, concessionaires are likely to raise fees, and they are required to pay only three percent of income received to the state, whereas the non-profits and local groups will return all of their net income to State Parks.
Concessionaires bid for park contracts in "bundles," Bair explained, and Standish-Hickey is part of a bundle of five parks in Mendocino County.
Bair is worried that state officials won't want to lose a concessionaire to run the other four parks in the bundle in order to let locals run one park, Standish-Hickey, in spite of the strengths of the MAPA/Team Standish proposal.
Anyone who wants to help keep Standish-Hickey SRA open and under non-profit, local management should email Team Standish at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bair recommends people describe how they see park closures affecting local businesses; for example, expressing concern about loss of local stores.
For more information about Team Standish, their collaboration with MAPA, and about the park itself, visit their website, www.standishhickey.com.
The State Parks website, www.parks.ca.gov, includes a complete list of parks proposed for closure as well as detailed information about all state parks in California.
Standish-Hickey SRA is the southernmost redwood park on Highway 101 that offers camping. Its 1000-plus acres include one of the few stands of virgin redwood remaining in Northern Mendocino as well as two miles of Eel River frontage.