The most pivotal event for the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (CRSP) occurred between Oct. 25 and Nov. 3, 2007. The Witch Creek fire ripped through the park destroying 24,308 acres of the 24,780-acre park.
Ninety-five percent of the conifer trees burned. Seventy-five percent of the park’s oak trees were instantly charcoal. The landscape changed, perhaps forever.
The California State Parks Department, recognizing the utter devastation and recently obtaining more land adjacent to the park, is working on the General Plan Update for CRSP that was last looked at in 1986. Seeking public opinion, the first of several planned meetings was held Oct. 3, 2012, at Viejas Casino in the Dream Catcher Showroom.
I picked up my pal, John Degenfelder, for the evening event and drove out to Alpine hopes held high. John and I talked about the possibilities ahead and the meetings we had attended in the past regarding CRSP.
John and I are frequent visitors to the park and we both adore the scenery, wildlife, and trails. We have ridden in the park together and, even when a rattlesnake has temporarily interrupted our serenity, we’ve appreciated its right to have such a beautiful home for us to visit.
As we entered the room I noted the approximately 125 people in attendance. The perimeter of the room had maps on bulletin boards with tables containing Post-it notes and pens. Computers lined one wall and every screen had the same image illuminated in the dimly lit room.
Many faces I recognized, some I did not. John and I took our seats right in the front row and looked at each other with anticipation.
As the speakers rose, spoke and introduced one another to the rest of us, we listened to historians, biologists, archaeologists and other experts explain how devastating the 2003 fire was for the park and all life within it.
As the experts explained the need for the General Plan Update, there were some groans and sighs from the audience, subtle but audible. I scratched my notes as each spoke but noticed the mood in the room shift.
After listening to each of the speakers, we were invited to visit the workshop stations around the room. Our input was requested at each of the stations. What would we like to see and where? What did we find important in the park? Were there any ideas for activities or facilities we wanted to contribute?
We each took a survey on the computers provided and milled around the stations chatting and writing on maps, boards and Post-it notes, which we then stuck to the various maps.
The state park staff thanked us, then proceeded to the verbal input portion of the evening. Those wishing to speak put their name on a card and handed it in, then were called to stand and contribute ideas.
Trail supporters stood one by one and spoke in support of the park and the need for trails to remain open and connected and suggested facilities such as camps and parking in various areas. Someone stood when her name was called and asked for all equestrians in the room to stand. A very interesting thing happened: three-quarters of the people in the room stood up. I know there were hikers and mountain bikers in attendance. I know quite a few and saw some there that night, but to have that large a presence from the equestrian community spoke volumes.
Several people told state parks staff that the fees were way too high, even though we were not there to discuss fees as they are not part of the general plan update process, but it came up time and again. Areas that used to be free to use are now fee areas, or are becoming fee areas, and the annual pass for use of state parks jumped dramatically.
The evening wound up with state parks staff informing the audience that the next meeting should be held in the springtime, and that other meetings may be held with groups of stakeholders between then and now. They strongly suggested keeping ourselves updated by visiting their website, thanked us for coming out, and that was that.
It really was a meeting to explain the general plan process, gather public input and little more. Much less exciting than the meetings we’d attended in the past with hopes of broadening public use in the park. No pomp, no frills, no hoopla.
As we drove home John and I chatted about our hopes for the future of Cuyamaca and our love of the park and agreed that we are looking forward to the next meeting. I will let you know when and where that is as soon as I do.
For more information, visit: parks.ca.gov/?page_id=667.
Karen Carlson is a Ramona resident.