With neither the state nor Los Angeles County stepping forward to pay operating costs, parks officials are reluctantly facing the reality that the popular Castaic Lake State Recreation Area may close indefinitely on Aug. 31 -- the day before the crowded Labor Day holiday.
On Thursday, the county Parks and Recreation Department released a statement saying it appeared "ever more certain" that operation of Castaic Lake in north Los Angeles County would be transferred to the cash-strapped state, which thus far has not announced any plans to keep it open.
Although technically a state park, Castaic Lake has been run by the county since it opened in the early 1970s. But the county, facing a $4-million hole in its parks budget, announced this year that unless it received financial assistance from the state, it would turn Castaic's operations over to the state parks department.
California, meanwhile, is facing one of the worst budget deficits in decades.
On Thursday, state parks spokesman Roy Stearns said the state was "very disappointed" by the county's actions, noting that the county has a contract to operate the park until 2017. He also cited concerns about boaters and fishers who may show up at the lake on Labor Day expecting to get in.
"It's going to be a situation that could be ugly on that weekend," he said. "If the [county's] intention here is to push this issue into a small mushroom cloud, that's what may happen."
Another nearby park, the Placerita Canyon Natural Area, may also close Aug. 31 for the same financial reasons.
Stearns said state officials have begun discussing contingency plans for security at both parks if a solution is not reached.