SACRAMENTO — A new state program is making trips to snow country easier for snowmobilers, cross-country skiers and other winter fun-seekers this year in California.
The Department of Parks and Recreation has established 17 "Sno-Parks"--places to park vehicles, unload skis and snowmobiles and follow trails.
The facilities near popular snow sport locations are open to those who buy $2 single-day permits or $10 season permits. The permits are good at any snow park.
The aim of the program is convenience and safety for snow recreationists.
Bill Emrie of the department said the most important criterion for choosing the park locations from among 200 potential sites was traffic safety.
"We wanted a safe entry and exit to the area," he said. "We also were concerned about terrain, topography and the potential for avalanches."
He said snow parks in Washington and Oregon have generated "a lot of public support for a number of years."
"Nothing like this has been tried in California before," he said, although he noted that some private businesses operate cross-country ski areas and that the state has off-highway vehicle parks for snowmobile use.
Emrie stressed that the snow parks "are parking areas--not parks in the sense of a state park. They are there just to provide safe parking."
However, he said, efforts are under way to provide portable toilet facilities at the some of the sites.
The snow parks are located next to U.S. Forest Service lands in areas ranging from Yuba Pass in Sierra County in the northern portion of the state to the eastern end of California 190 in Tulare County toward the south.
A permit does not guarantee the purchaser a space to park. The parking spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the parks, which range in size from 30 to 100 spaces.
Ken Martin, manager of the program, said the snow park idea was suggested to Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) by the Planning and Conservation League, the California-Nevada Snowmobile Assn. and Nordic ski sections of the Sierra Club. Costa sponsored 1984 legislation that authorized the program.
The Legislature lent the department $200,000 to start the project, designed to be financed from permit fees. Program revenues will be used to repay the loan funds with interest, Martin said.
He said more than 3,000 seasonal permits have been sold since the program started Nov. 1.
Emrie said the only difficulty is making sure that people who use the parking spaces have permits, which must be placed on a vehicle's dashboard to be visible from the outside. People using the parks without permits are subject to $75 fines.
Emrie said some people who previously parked in the areas complained about having to pay to park there now.
A guide to snow park sites is available from the department for $4.
Permits can be purchased from selected units of the state park system and 65 ski and sports equipment stores throughout California. Members of the California State Automobile Assn. can purchase them at association district offices in Northern California.