The popular tourist attraction will accommodate hikers and campers 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Castle Crags State Park is open for the season. The popular tourist attraction will accommodate hikers and campers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according park aide Mary Rafuse. She said state legislation provided funding that allowed the park to remain open this year.

“We got a two-year stay from a bill passed in Sacramento,” Rafuse said.

The bill was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on Sept. 25, 2012.

Called the “matching funds law,” AB 1478 allocates a little more than $20 million split to achieve two main goals, according to State Parks Deputy Director of Communications Roy Stearns. One part goes to a $10 million, dollar-to-dollar matching fund to help donors keep parks open, or to provide half the operating expenses for a private partner to take over management of a park.

The other is $10 million earmarked to fund deferred maintenance for parks faced with closure if no work is done.

AB 1478 sets aside another $500,000 for audits and investigations, according to an email from Stearns.

The $20.5 million comes from funds found in State Parks’ accounts last summer. The director of California Parks and Recreation resigned July 19 when it became known the department concealed an accruing fund from the Department of Finance, according to a investigation aired by the state attorney general’s office early this year.

The amount of the fund was initially reported as $54 million, but the investigation found only $20.5 million was actually concealed. The attorney general found no evidence of wrongdoing.

“None of that money was stolen, or misappropriated,” according to Stearns. “It was money State Parks earned from revenue sources, fees and contracts. This was State Parks money in the first place, from the State Parks and Recreation Fund, coming back to parks to help with keeping parks open and maintenance of critical issues.”

Stearns wrote that AB 1478 also redirects an additional $10 million from Proposition 84 funds to be used towards $1.3 billion in critical capital outlay projects, deferred maintenance that has been building since the 1980s.

Two years ago, because of the California budget crisis, 70 state parks were slated for closure, including Castle Crags. In the fall of 2011, the gates to the park were closed and no one knew if they would ever open again. Park aide Rafuse said at the time she was surprised by a phone call on June 29 telling her to return to work. The gates opened last summer on July 9.

What saved the park then was a line item in the state budget that allocated $10 million to keep state parks open through the 2012 season.

“And $10 million sounds like a lot, but when you stretch it across a system that has massive cuts in recent years, it does not go far, other than a short term bridge-the-gap,” emailed Stearns.

At that time, State Parks was working with two prospects that could take over operations at Castle Crags. A non-profit had submitted a plan, and a concessionaire was completing a Request for Proposals.

Stearns said in his email that neither came to an agreement with the state. He pointed out that AB 1478 changes the type of partner sought. “We are not seeking a concessionaire, but rather, a matching fund donor who will come forward to provide funding to match our funding from AB 1478. We are considering an RFP for Castle Crags and other parks, hoping to bundle together more than one so that operation becomes more likely to be profitable for whomever decides to put in an offer.”

Stearns wrote that if no partnership can be arranged for Castle Crags State Park by the end of fiscal year 2013-14, the park still faces the possibility of permanent closure. “That consideration is not off the table and dead,” he emphasized.

For now, Castle Crags is open as a state park, with a park aide working regular hours at the kiosk, its tiny office. Mary Rafuse said the kiosk will be open to the public from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., sometimes later on weekends.

She said park visitors can self-register after office hours and, “The gate will be open until the end of the season.”

Castle Crags State Park accommodates motor homes and pedestrian campers, drive up or remote, “environmental” campsites a one-mile hike from the road. Rafuse says the river sites are now open. Those wishing information on park rules and rates can call 235-2684.