Last winter, when the California Department of State Parks announced it was closing 71 parks due to budget cuts, Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area looked doomed.
But residents and business owners in the Piercy and Leggett areas, realizing that the closing of Standish-Hickey would mean economic and social disaster for their communities, rose to the challenge and wouldn’t let go.
In December they formed Team Standish, a group of volunteers dedicated to keeping the park open. They met at Leggett School almost every week for months, formed working committees assigned to specific tasks, talked with local State Parks officials, learned everything they could about their options, and eventually found the partner they needed -- the Mendocino Area Parks Association.
With the guidance of State Parks’ North Coast Redwoods District officials, especially Eel River Section chief Michelle Gardner, Team Standish/MAPA re-opened the park on July 6 under a month-to-month special event permit.
Three months later on Saturday, Oct. 13, the two organizations held an open house at the park to celebrate their successful season.
Over 500 people have visited the park since it opened, Team Standish board member Jill Palmer said. Most of them camped in the two out of three campgrounds MAPA/Team Standish were able to have ready in July.
During the summer season seven local people had full-time paid jobs at the park, and several of them are working part-time during the rest of the year.
Roger Woodsmall is the park manager, John Eickhoff is the assistant manager and maintenance chief, and during the summer there were four people taking shifts at the entrance kiosk, and two additional maintenance persons.
Many volunteers assisted with every aspect of keeping Standish-Hickey in top condition and its visitors happy.
Local merchants were glad to see the park re-open because so much of their business relies on selling groceries and supplies to the visitors. In turn, business owners like Melissa Rosenthal of Redwood Mercantile in Leggett, often guided travelers toward Standish-Hickey as a great place to camp, or at least to have a picnic and cool off in the deep, clear swimming hole -- one of the finest in the South Fork Eel River.
Eickhoff and his crew kept busy both before and after the season repairing tables and cabinets at the campsites, clearing debris and downed trees, and particularly making sure all the facilities were clean and safe.
Their priority every day was to make sure the restrooms were clean, Eickhoff said. Standish-Hickey workers received many compliments on the cleanliness of the facilities.
MAPA/Team Standish hope to have their official long-term partnership agreement with State Parks signed by the end of the year, MAPA executive director Carolyne Cathey said.
Once they have a long-term agreement with the state, they will be able to buy supplies in bulk, make contracts with service providers like trash haulers, and apply for grants.
They’ll also be able to work with State Parks on further plans to improve the park. The number-one project on everyone’s wish list is to re-open the Redwood Campground on the far side of the river. Because it’s far away from Highway 101 and set within a beautiful redwood grove, with access to the best hiking trails in the park, it is the most desirable campground at Standish-Hickey.
Originally a military Bailey bridge spanned the river, allowing vehicles to cross during the summer months. It was designed to be removed during the winter.
Team Standish/MAPA would like to see a footbridge instead, at least at first, so they can open Redwood Campground as a hike and bike campground, keeping it free from all motorized vehicles.
"This has been a wonderful partnership," Cathey said. The local group brings their "love and passion" for the park to save something both groups believe in. The MAPA/Team Standish collaboration is a model for other potential partnerships, she said.
MAPA and Team Standish are also appreciative of the help they received from State Parks staff, Cathey added. In turn the non-profit and volunteer organizations are able to help the parks in a time of funding constraints by helping maintain the value of the state’s lands and freeing park staff to do more work in the parks that the state has committed to keep open, like Richardson Grove.
While Standish-Hickey’s future looks a lot brighter than it did a year ago, Team Standish and MAPA still welcome donations, volunteers, and ideas. To learn more, check their website at www.standishhickey.com, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call MAPA at 707-937-4700.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTOS BY VIRGINIA GRAZIANI
1. This swimming hole, the gem of Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area near Leggett, is still cool and deep in mid-October.
2. Since Team Standish and MAPA re-opened Standish-Hickey SRA three months ago, over 500 persons have visited, most of them staying in sun-dappled campsites like this one.
3. Supporters of Standish-Hickey SRA enjoy good company and an old-fashioned hot dog roast at the campfire area during an open house to celebrate the successful re-opening of the park by Team Standish and the Mendocino Area Parks Association.
4. Too many choices? Ipo Savoie, Jr. (right) and his helpers, Kiana Burns (left) and Sequoia Brahm raised funds for the People-To-People program, which sends teenagers on adventures all over the world, by offering more than two-dozen flavors of sno-cones to guests at the Standish-Hickey SRA open house.