By Tom Kuekes, District Ranger
Mil Potrero campground was constructed by the Westside Parks and Recreation District of Taft in 1964. All the improvements are owned by Westside; the land is National Forest land managed by the Forest Service. The campground operated under two consecutive 20-year special use permits, until 2004.
In 2004 Westside decided not to renew their permit. Since this facility is the most developed campground on the Mt. Pinos district (for example, it is the only one with potable water, flush toilets, and showers) and is in a beautiful setting, I agreed to give Westside an opportunity to find a new operator so that the public can continue to enjoy this facility. I have not received a completed special use application from anyone, including Michael Berg, California Trail Users’ Coalition or "National Forest Association–Los Padres" for Mil Potrero as yet. Last year one was received from a different individual who withdrew his application before it was complete.
Many individuals and organizations, including Mr. Berg, have approached me over the past several years to find out about the requirements to operate Mil Potrero. I have told each of them the exact same thing: The Forest Service desires to see the campground run as a facility which is open to the general public (in other words, not for the exclusive use of one group) which provides family and group camping and appropriate associated day uses.
The improvements (buildings, picnic tables, water system, etc) are still the property of Westside. Since the Forest Service does not own the improvements, I cannot use a "bid" or prospectus process to issue a new permit, but can only deal with whomever is the owner of the improvements. At such time that title is acquired by a new would-be operator and a special use application received and accepted by the Forest Service, the NEPA environmental process will commence.
I will only accept an application if the offered services are consistent with National Forest objectives. The applicant will also have to demonstrate financial capability to operate the campground. The NEPA process must be completed prior to any permit being issued. Archaeology reports would be required as part of the NEPA process. The NEPA process will include also an opportunity for public input.
The Mil Potrero project is listed in the Forest’s Schedule of Proposed Actions (SOPA) as being "on hold" with an unknown date for decision because, while we have been expecting to get an application from someone, we don’t have one yet. In January 2007 I gave Westside a deadline of July 16, 2007 to locate a new operator who will take title to the improvements.
After such time I will, with regret, require Westside to remove the improvements and restore the site. I am hoping that a suitable operator will step forward before that happens, who can provide a facility for the general public to enjoy.
I see a lot of positives for our communities and the public at large if we can be successful in seeing Mil Potrero re-open to the public instead of being torn down, and I would hope that people could find a way to work together to support such an end. Call me at (661) 245- 3731 for additional information.
This is part of the June 08, 2007 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.