Due to California state budget shortfalls, our much loved Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park (MGDSHP) has found its way to the state closure list. According to Scott Nakaji, superintendent of the Park Department’s Gold Fields District, the park will likely close for at least two years, unless other funding sources are found.
Every year 70,000 school children visit this park to learn about the discovery of gold that led to the 1849 Gold Rush, which resulted in one of the the greatest mass migrations in history. They learn about its effects, both positive and negative, on history, economics, environment, native peoples and culture. Closing the park would cut off this education resource.
Information obtained from Gary Lyons, Marshall Sector Superintendent, puts operational costs for July 2008 through June 2009 at around $729,000, with wages and benefits about 87% of the total cost of operations. Income for the same period was $174,757. The resulting deficient is $554,243. However, it should be pointed out that, even if that is the projected deficit, it does not represent what the state will “save”should the park close. Best guess projections would put operating costs of while in closure status at about $200,000. The resulting deficit — or money “saved” would only be about $350,000/annually — a very small amount given the actual state budget.
Since the publication of pending closure, multiple meetings with park officials and Supervisor Briggs have been held, and a two prong strategy developed. One prong focuses on letter writing campaigns, media attention, with a primary focus on getting the schools and school children that visit the park each year involved. This effort is being spearheaded by Lois Fortress and the Gold Discovery Park Association (GDPA).
The second prong involves the financial aspect, and looks at economic impact to the community, solutions to the deficit, and potential partnerships. The Coloma Lotus Chamber of Commerce (CLCC), Marjorie Sanborn, Chamber President, is leading this endeavor.
Not only is the issue of closure an emotional one — the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill precipitated the Gold Rush and is one California’s most defining events — it is an issue of public safety. With MSDSHP divided by Hwy 49, it will be virtually impossible to “close” the park. Visitors will continue to stop, and without monitoring and supervision, the potential safety risk and probable continued deterioration of the park is certainly foreseeable.
What You Can Do
Join in our letter writing campaign, and attend public meetings, the details of which can be found at www.keepsuttersmillopen.org. If you are a local business, when you receive your survey about the potential economic impact to your business, complete it. If you are a Facebook member, please join our cause and share the word with your friends.
The decision(s) about park closures are expected to be made by Labor Day. Even if the park remains on the list, the battle will not be over. We will continue our campaign, and will continue to develop an economic plan that makes long-term sense.
If you are a Chamber member, you will get email updates. Additionally, if you would like to participate in our Economic Impact sub-committee, please contact the Coloma-Lotus Chamber, or call Marjorie at (541) 622-6919.