For years, camping out beneath the stars along the South Yuba River at Purdon Crossing was a cool way to beat the heat for folks all over western Nevada County " and a summer tradition for Dan Chaplin's family.
"It's an almost spiritual experience being out on the river after everyone has gone. As dusk settles onto the river, it gets really still and quiet," Chaplin said. Dragonflies and bats dart about. Sometimes a ringtail cat or river otter makes an appearance.
Those romantic evenings of easy recreation access came to an end in May when the state park closed down overnight parking at the crossing. Officials hope the move would improve emergency vehicle access and reduce the risk of wildfire and sanitation problems affecting water quality.
"Purdon Crossing is a thorny one," said Jason Rainey, executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League.
Fans of the impromptu camping spot are not taking the change lying down in their sleeping bags.
On Wednesday, Chaplin attended a meeting with representatives from California parks, the federal Bureau of Land Management, Nevada County Sheriff's Office and county supervisors Nate Beason and Hank Weston.
The various agencies tried to hatch a plan for managing the river corridor in a way that everyone could agree on.
Chaplin is calling for more public involvement in Purdon Crossing decisions.
"It's complicated because its multiple jurisdictions there," said Ron Munson, state parks superintendent for the area.
The county owns the road, while state parks, BLM and one private individual owns land along the river. State park rangers don't have the authority to enforce federal regulations on BLM land, Munson added.
While no concrete resolutions came out of the meeting, supervisors suggested a county ordinance as one option that could be adopted in the future to help guide all agencies patrolling the river.
"We're all on the same page, but we want to codify it," Beason said.
While Chaplin agrees that campfires should be banned during summer months, he argues that restrictions in place now are harming public recreation.
"Access to the river is supposed to be protected," as outlined in the 2005 South Yuba River Comprehensive Management Plan, Chaplin said.
Created after 40 public meetings, the management plan is an agreement between public stakeholders that took two years to forge.
"I do believe it's been a little bit lost in the fray," Rainey said.
Beason said the management plan informs county decisions, but it has no statutory grip over them.
"We worked too long and hard not to look at it," Beason said.
In the summer months, finding a place to park at Purdon Crossing is a challenge.
Many cars cram into a small parking area, and visitors walk up the trail to the popular swimming hole known as Mother's Beach.
Between May and July this year, the state park issued 65 parking citations, 13 alcohol citations and four citations related to drugs.
"It's pretty active. Especially during the summer months," Munson said.
Since the ban on overnight parking was implemented, six illegal fire or camping citations have been issued. Last year, state park rangers issued 20 citations for illegal camping.
"It's been quite effective. Certainly, we don't stop all those activities completely," Munson said.
Chaplin believes the state parks are going about controlling illegal campfires the wrong way. Instead, he says more signs announcing stiff fines would better deter people from building a campfire.
"I think people would be very willing to pay attention to that," Chaplin said.
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