Controversial campground expansion in Auburn State Recreation Area gets unanimous approval – CBS Sacramento

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FORESTHILL (CBS13) – A controversial plan to add new campgrounds to the Auburn State Recreation Area was passed unanimously by state park commissioners on Thursday, even as residents in the region have expressed concern about the increased risk of forest fires.

John Michelini is Chairman of the Foresthill Fire Protection District Board and has been a vocal opponent of the expansion plan. His Foresthill home has a back patio overlooking the Auburn State Recreation Area.

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“There are houses on that hill,” Michelini said as he gazed out over the state park. “Just over the hill where the trees are in the sun is where the Trailhead Fire started.”

In this peaceful landscape of homes and wildlife, forest fires are more of a concern than ever.

“The fires that are happening in the Auburn State Recreation Area are not a matter of inconvenience to these people, it’s a matter of life and death,” Michelini said.

The state Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved a general plan to allow for an increase in the number of campsites from 36 to 178, along with new trails and parking lots.

Michelini says he now wonders if the state is really concerned about the wildfire danger.

“Are they?” said Michelini. “I mean, it’s one thing to say you’re concerned about wildfires and it’s another to do something about it.”

Alexandra Stehl is California’s State Parks Planning Officer.

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“We take this very seriously,” Stehl said.

Stehl said adding more legal campsites to the popular getaway would equate to less illegal camping — a much higher fire hazard.

“So if we don’t provide the camping that people are looking for, we increase the risk of them finding their own camping areas,” Stehl said.

The potential for more visitors also adds to concerns about overcrowded escape routes in the event of a wildfire. Foresthill Bridge was blocked during the bridge fire in early September.

“Foresthill Road is the main escape route for 7,000 people who live in the community of Foresthill,” Michelini said.

People who live adjacent to the Auburn State Recreation Area are looking for a sense of security as the state moves forward with major expansion projects.

“We understand that there is some trust that we need to rebuild with the community,” Stehl said.

Thirty people spoke before Thursday’s vote. All were opposed to this plan.

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There is no timeline when the state can seek funds to build the new campsites.

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