Trying to save the Petaluma Adobe

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Bronwen Lemmon isn't taking the threat to Sonoma County state parks lightly.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco psychotherapist was on a mission to see Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, one of five state parks in the county that could be shut down next year.

"Our goal is to see as many of the parks before they close as we can, said Lemmon, who made earlier trips to see Annadel, Sugarloaf and Jack London state parks, each of them facing closure.

Local park advocates remain hopeful of finding ways to save the parks despite plans to close them along with more than 60 others this summer in a cost-cutting move designed to save the state $22 million.

Approaches to the challenge vary. The Petaluma Adobe Committee is trying to raise $70,000 to pay the state to continue running the historic park four days a week. They've raised $6,000 so far and recently got an unexpected boost from an anonymous supporter pledging to match all donations up to $35,000.

"People in Sonoma County want their parks and are passionate about their parks and are going to find a way to keep them open," said Dave Gould, director of Sonoma County Parks Alliance, a coalition of public and private groups focused on keeping the parks open.

Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville is the fifth Sonoma state park facing closure.

The Adobe offers a rare window into life before the Gold Rush, engaging thousands of school children each year in hands-on history with activities like wool spinning, candlemaking and leather working.

Closing it would threaten hard-won relationships with schools and expose the park to vandals, said Philip Sales, chairman of Save the Petaluma Adobe Committee

"We can't really let this happen on our watch," he said.

The effort to keep Annadel open, by contrast, is focused on transferring responsibility for the park to Sonoma County and using donations to pay for the cost.

Backers of Jack London State Historic Park are taking a third approach. The Valley of the Moon Natural History Association submitted a proposal in November to operate the Glen Ellen park itself, taking advantage of a new law allowing non-profits to assume park operations.

A coalition of supporters of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park has submitted a similar draft proposal, Gould said. The park closed for the winter, the first time it has done so in its 47-year history. It's uncertain when it will reopen.

In each instance, negotiations with the state should pick up in the New Year, Gould said, adding that the process is slowed by unfamiliarity of the process to all sides.

State officials aren't versed in finding ways to get others to take over parks or fund them, he said.

"It's a real burden for the state parks to figure out what is the best way to make this work,"Gould said.

So far, plans to keep Austin Creek State Recreation Area, which is adjacent to Armstrong Woods in Guerneville, have not advanced as far as the others, Gould said.

Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, which promotes state parks in western Sonoma County, already had their hands full looking for ways to re-open state beaches closed earlier in the state budget crisis, Gould said.

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