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Coke contest could keep state beach from fizzling

Officials urge Oxnard residents to help McGrath State Beach stay open by trying to win $100,000 in 'America's Favorite Park' contest.

August 28, 2011|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times
  • Noah Taesch, 1, walks up a trail at McGrath State Beach, a camping spot that will close Sept. 6 unless officials come up with $500,000 for repairs.
Noah Taesch, 1, walks up a trail at McGrath State Beach, a camping spot that… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

In yet another sign of hard times, officials are looking to a contest sponsored by Coca-Cola for funds to keep a popular coastal park open.

Without $500,000 to replace an aging sewer line, McGrath State Beach, a camping spot just down the coast from Ventura Harbor, will shut down after Labor Day.

With less than two weeks left and no check in hand, local and state officials on Friday urged people to head for and vote — as often as they can — in Coca-Cola's "America's Favorite Park" contest.

The winning park will receive $100,000, and the top two runners-up will receive $50,000 and $25,000. The voting deadline is Sept. 6 — the same day McGrath is set to close.

As curious campers watched, officials gathered at McGrath on Friday to promote the idea.

"It would be tragic to see a place like this closed," said Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), whose district includes the park.

Williams said a federal grant of $250,000 would be contingent on matching funds. The city of Oxnard, the park's home, has pledged $50,000, and $100,000 would come from the state. That leaves $100,000 — and Coca-Cola.

"It won't just be government," said Oxnard City Councilwoman Carmen Ramirez. "It won't just be private enterprise. It has to be all of us."

With more than 302,000 votes, McGrath State Beach was No. 6 in the Coke contest Sunday afternoon. Topping the charts — with more than 2.7 million votes — was Oak Park in Minot, N.D.

Minot was swept by floods earlier this year. It has only 45,000 people but word of the contest spread with the help of actor Josh Duhamel, a native son who tweeted his fans about it, according to Coca-Cola spokeswoman Nancy Limon.

"This falls right under what we call our 'live positively' philosophy," she said. "We're encouraging people to get outdoors and lead healthy, active lifestyles."

McGrath is the only California park in the top 10, although 70 state parks are destined for closure by next July due to budget cuts.

Limon said she didn't know why the contest was set up, like Chicago elections of legend, so individuals could vote multiple times. But whatever the reason, it's worked fine for McGrath booster Cindy Crawford, who said she cast her vote about 12,000 times.

Crawford, a school information technology specialist from Long Beach, set up a Facebook page for the cause and on Friday told the McGrath rally that enough support from Ventura County could easily catapult the park into the winning spot.

"If you have just a third of the county voting 100 or 200 times apiece, we could easily do it," she said.

Like many in the crowd, Crawford talked about the special affection she had for McGrath, a place she visits at least twice a month.

"I've seen bobcat tracks by the water's edge," she said. "There's no place like it further south."

Meanwhile, vans full of campers were setting up for what might be one of their last hurrahs in a park that draws 300,000 visitors a year.

Struggling with a new tent, Fernando Zeledon, who works in Huntington Park, looked as much in need of aid as McGrath itself.

The park's financial problems didn't surprise him.

"God knows," he said. "I'm a teacher."

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