Mono Lake State Park is off the closure list

The Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve is off the state’s list of possible state parks to close as of late afternoon Thursday.

The park will remain open and, contrary to some rumors, it will continue to be managed by the state as a state park.

The only thing that will change on the ground is a new fee collection agreement between the state and a nonprofit organization that has long been an advocate for, and a source of financial support for the park, the Bodie Foundation.

According to park Interpretive Ranger Dave Marquart, the Bodie Foundation will manage a new fee collection site at Old Marina where a $3 per car fee will be collected via an “iron ranger”; essentially via the honor system.

“I know there has been some misinformation out there that said the Bodie Foundation was going to take over the park,” Marquart said. “That was never a real option.”

He said a “concessionaire agreement” between the park and the foundation outlining the process by which the new fees would be collected was signed Thursday afternoon.

Much of the reason the park was removed from the state’s list of several dozen state parks slated for possible closure due to budget shortfalls was precisely because of the long-standing collaboration between the park and the nonprofit, he said.

“They were impressed that we were already working with another entity to cut costs to the state,” he said. The Bodie Foundation is a nonprofit that supports three state parks: Bodie, Mono Lake and Grover Hotsprings. In fact, Marquart’s salary is paid for by the foundation; another fact that has kept the park’s cost to the state low and another reason the park was removed from the closure list.

The new agreement, good for one year, does not preclude other organizations from working with the reserve, Marquart said.

“It’s a “non-exclusive” contract.”

There has been some discontent by residents in the Mono Basin over the fate of the park, particularly among private property owners on the shore of the lake, who have long hoped the state would be removed from the picture and they could have more private property rights along the lake.

There has also been some discussion within the Mono Basin’s Native American groups, who had at one point advanced an idea of taking on the park management themselves.

“My family has used Mono Lake since the 1800s for spiritual and healing purposes and collecting food off the lake. We are also a nonprofit,” said Charlotte Lange, Mono Lake Kutzadika Pauite Tribe tribal chairperson in an earlier interview with the MT.

She noted then that she had spoken with other tribes and looked into the availability of federal monies to manage the park. She said then that they would put forth a management proposal that would include law enforcement.

“I have law enforcement experience myself, so I know what law enforcement takes,” she said.

That option never came forward in any formal way, Marquart said Thursday, and the state decided to move ahead with the one-year agreement with the Bodie Foundation.

“We commend our park partners for their caring and support for this and other parks in the Eastern Sierra,” said Matt Green, acting district superintendent for the California State Parks Sierra District.

“Through their fund raising efforts and their excellent cadre of park volunteers, they have come forward to maintain public access and enjoyment for a majestic body of water that is one of the oldest lakes in North America.”

“Our Foundation membership felt strongly that we could not stand by and not help State Parks in their time of need,” said Brad Sturdivant, president of the Bodie Foundation.

“This will be a challenge, and we are hoping for donations to ease the burden, but we are very pleased to be working to keep this historic and natural wonder open for public enjoyment.

“The reserve gets a quarter of a million visits every year,” said Geoff McQuilkin, director of the Mono Lake Committee. “That is a lot of people who will still be coming to the local stores and restaurants because this park is open.”

That quarter million visitors is worth about $42 million a year to the local economy, he said.
In addition, the lake is a magnet for scientific research, perhaps demonstrated best last year by the discovery of a NASA team that arsenic could possibly be used as one of the “building blocks” of life, rather than as inherently toxic to life.

Another NASA team used the lake bed’s rough and barren terrain last year to test a prototype of a Mars ROVER, in advance of sending such a robot to Mars to search for life.

“If the reserve was closed, it means no requests for scientific research could have been be processed,” McQuilkin said. “That could really slow down some of the internationally-known research work being done here.”