The Benbow Lake State Recreation Area campground will reopen by Memorial Day weekend this year. State park workers have been preparing the grounds all winter.
Richardson Grove Maintenance Supervisor Mike Pogue showed the ongoing progress workers have made with “many, many, many hours of work.”
In 2011, Ruth Coleman, who once served as California State Park director, said, “We regret closing any park, but with the proposed budget reductions over the next two years, we can no longer afford to operate all parks within the system.” The Benbow State Recreation Area campground was one of several state parks officially closed to the public in July 2012 to “meet general fund reductions,” according to official statements from California State Parks.
This summer, two-thirds of the campground will be fully reopened on a first-come, first-served basis.
California State Park workers of the South Fork Sector still have many tasks to complete before the campground can reopen. Maintenance workers have cleared the roads of brush and dirt and installed new fire rings and predator-proof food lockers for the safe storage. Young trees like buckeyes and madrones, which are naturally at home in the local ecosystem, have been planted around the campground and surrounded by small rings for protection. Some dead trees remain standing to provide habitat for woodpeckers, marbled murrelets and other native species.
Several structures and pathways in Benbow campground have been renovated to be more suitable for visitors with disabilities, including the Park Interpretive Center, where the public gathers several nights a week throughout the summer. Maintenance workers also paved four paved ADA-compliant campsites. At the day use area, the drinking water and hand wash spigots are being upgraded and made more available for festivals and gatherings this summer. The facilities are also all now ADA accessible.
Since the park closed in 2012, there were acts of vandalism that required repair. Windows were broken on the entrance kiosk and other buildings. Picnic tables were burned. Vandals destroyed what they could in the absence State Parks workers presence.
Volunteers are needed and welcome at state parks every year. All of the firewood provided to campers comes from Volunteers in Parks, and the proceeds are used for signs, equipment and other costs. Pogue emphasized the sheer necessity of volunteer input at state parks.
On behalf of state parks along the South Fork of the Eel River, North Coast Redwoods District Interpretive Specialist Susan Doniger said, “Things are happening and we are going in a positive direction.”
Taking things in stride, Pogue said “it’s going to be tough” when state budget cuts this year will reduce the South Eel River seasonal work force, from nine people to only four maintenance workers who are required to clean multiple campgrounds and buildings every day.
Pogue added, “We’re just a giant team here, and that’s a good thing. Reopening Benbow is an exciting opportunity … We’re here to protect the resources and for people to come recreate in a safe environment.”