Locals come together to rescue Effie Yeaw from budget ax
Carmichael, CA 95608
It’s a sure bet that Effie Yeaw would approve.
Yeaw was a local teacher and naturalist who led walks in the area along the American River that was, in the 1960s, known as Deterding Woods. She also worked with fellow area conservationists in a grassroots effort to establish the natural areas we now know as the American River Parkway. Effie Yeaw Nature Center, an interpretive center in Ancil Hoffman Park along that river, is named for her, in honor of her dedication to conservation education and natural spaces.
But the Sacramento County budget, which is cutting services in every area, hasn’t got the money in next year’s budget to keep the center and the natural area around it, including trails and picnic spots, up and running. It has been scheduled to close July 1.
That’s where the grassroots efforts of local conservationists come in.
When Heidi Kuehner, who regularly uses the trails at Effie Yeaw, heard the center was scheduled for closure, she quickly formed a group to save it. She wasn’t alone. A number of local organizations stepped up to the plate as well, and with the support of county regional parks director Janet Baker, a management takeover of the center by a local nonprofit is fairly certain.
“We followed the model used by the city of Sacramento with public amenities like Fairytale Town,” Baker told SN&R. The Regional Parks Department issued a request for proposals to manage the Effie Yeaw Nature Center and the surrounding park, and several area nonprofits have expressed interest. The deadline for proposals is June 4. At press time, the Discovery Museum, the American River Natural History Association, the American River Parkway Foundation, and the County Office of Education (operators of the Sly Park Environmental Education and Conference Center, an outdoor school in Pollock Pines) have all expressed interest in running the center.
Kuehner hopes for a collaborative effort from more than one group, which she feels would be more sustainable over the life of the 10-year contract that the regional parks office is offering.
“These are nonprofits, and that’s good, but what’s going to guarantee that the center keeps going?” she said. Noting the rough economic times, she’s working for a permanent solution. “Abandonment of public land is not an option. It’s a really huge issue to keep public lands in public hands.”
Baker agrees, and told SN&R that the county will still have a role in overseeing what happens at Effie Yeaw. “The county will hold the lease for the property and will be looking out for its well-being,” she said. “The land remains publicly owned. It’s the management—the maintenance, upkeep and programming—that a nonprofit will be doing under the proposal.”
Baker is pleased with the work that people like Kuehner are doing. “I wish we had as much support for our other programs and facilities,” she said.
But Kuehner worries about the long term, and her organization, Friends of Effie Yeaw Nature Center, has plans to continue working for a sustainable approach to local public lands. “One of the things we need to work for is a special parks district, which has its own assessment to support these public lands and keep them accessible to the public.”
According to Baker, that would be the ideal solution. “It’s something that should have been done 30 or 40 or 50 years ago,” she said. “What we’re trying to do for the future is to create a sustainable regional park agency. It is up to the community to support it with a special assessment.”
A special parks district with a dedicated assessment would free the regional parks from competition for money from the county’s general fund, which is especially tight in tough economic times. While Effie Yeaw, with its wide support, may be safe from more than a temporary, transitional closure, other parks in the area aren’t so lucky.
“We closed Gibson Ranch this past winter,” Baker said. “Now, it’s just open on weekends, but the local [Rio Linda] Elverta [Recreation and] Park District will open it on Fridays.” She hopes for more leases with nonprofits to keep other parks and facilities open.
With summer here, the main concern is the American River Parkway. “We’re trying to keep the American River Parkway as well-maintained as possible, and we’re trying to do that through the summer, which is the busiest season,” Baker said. “I’d like this to be the last time the county parks face this sort of situation. This kind of cycle will happen over and over again, and without a long-term solution in a special district, we will never be safe from closures like this.”
Baker can expect help from people like Kuehner, who isn’t slowing down her efforts just because the Effie Yeaw center appears to be safe. “The parks budget was only .36 percent of the county’s general fund before the cuts for the next fiscal year,” she said.
“It’s really hard for the parks to compete with [Child Protective Services] or the sheriff’s department for funds,” Kuehner said, “but these parks are an important part of who we are.”
Effie Yeaw would no doubt agree completely.