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Park looks to weather state cuts

Official says Torrey Pines unlikely to close

Torrey Pines State Beach and Natural Reserve is struggling to remain viable in the wake of deep state budget cuts due to the ongoing economic recession, but is unlikely to be closed.

That’s the assessment of Ronilee Clark, district superintendent for the San Diego Coast District in the State Park Service, which includes 16 parks between the U.S.-Mexico border and northern Carlsbad.

Since final passage of the state’s budget, Clark said park officials have been crunching the numbers and running alternative scenarios on what needs to be done to maintain the parks with reduced state funding.

“We are talking with potential partners - government, corporations or private - who might want to help us either taking over parity programs, helping in park operations or donors funding some programs,” Clark said. “We are really going to make a push on that over the next couple weeks.”

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Clark said the parks department should have a pretty good idea by mid to late August as to what state parks might need.

Asked if she thought the 2,000-acre Torrey Pines State Reserve, which includes coastal hiking trails and a public beach, would be on that list, Clark said, “My guess is it won’t.”

She said there are a variety of reasons that the park won’t close. “It’s really not a moneymaker, which is why it was on the original closure list, " she said. “But it does generate fairly substantial revenues: That is certainly going to be one of the factors. It also has very high visitation - another factor.”

Also weighing in on the fate of Torrey Pines State Park and Beach will be two support groups, the Torrey Pines Association (TPA) and the Torrey Pines Docent Society (TPDS). The two nonprofits are hosting a “habitat” party on the grounds of Del Mar Heights Elementary School overlooking the state park from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 22. What’s the cause for celebration? The 35th anniversary of the Torrey Pines State Reserve Extension, located one mile north of the main Reserve, which was added to the state park system in 1970.

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Patricia Masters, TPA vice president, said the drive to save the Extension started in 1964 when neighbors, alerted to bulldozers destroying mature Torrey Pines, teamed with local conservation groups to raise $700,000 over the next decade to save and created the Extension.

But, Masters added, the battle to save Torrey Pines and other state parks like it is far from over. “When the governor signed the budget he whacked another $8 million off parks,” she noted.

Peter Jensen, president of TPA, a fundraising group created in 1950 to preserve the rare torrey pines trees the park is noted for, said his group can only augment what is done at the park with state funding.

“We have no authority over the park,” he said. “Our mission is to protect and preserve, by way of fundraising, money to help the park meet some of its needs. But we don’t pay rangers’ salaries. We don’t pay for basic services and operations. These are things the state must simply do if wants to have a state parks system.”