So How Would You Close Sutter's Fort?


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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Carson : “Fire in the hole!”
(sound of a very loud musket shot)
 
Walking through the gates of Sacramento’s Sutter’s Fort is like stepping 150 years back in time.  For example, there’s this guy dressed up in an old white shirt and suspenders.
 
Carson: “So, would you guys like to see it go off?”
Kid: “No!”
Other kids: “Yeah … yes …”
 
Matt Carson is showing kids from the Napa Valley Unified School District how to load a musket.
 
Carson: “Take our ramrod, run it down the barrel, tamp it down …”
 
Look around, and you’ll see a covered wagon, canons and furs … and parks employees dressed up in garb from the 1800's – say, as a “blacksmith” or “fur trapper.”
 
Russo: “You can’t come and learn about this part of California history anywhere but here and a textbook on your desk.” 
 
Bob Russo runs the programs here at Sutter’s Fort, like today’s “History Live.”  Fourth and fifth graders on field trips roam freely through the fort, listening to audio tours and the costumed employees.  Russo says the place is one-of-a-kind.
 
Russo: “It’s vital, I think, for school kids to be able to walk in the shadows of the past and touch the past to drive home that historical lesson that we’re striving for here.” 
 
But Sutter’s Fort is run by the state of California.  And Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed putting 220 state parks and historic sites in what’s called “caretaker status.”  That is, shutting the gates, laying off the rangers and other staff and sending someone over every once in a while to make sure they aren’t being vandalized.  So how do you do that?  Well, the State Parks Department says it doesn’t really know yet.
 
Stearns: “I think we’re still learning what caretaker status will mean.” 
 
Spokesman Roy Stearns points out the state has never done anything like this before.  Officials only released the list of parks on the chopping block last Friday.  But he says it’s easier to deal with enclosed properties like historical sites than wide open parks and beaches.
 
Stearns: “For Sutter’s Fort, you can lock the door and keep people out. It’s not like a big camping park where people might park on the side of the road and walk in.” 
 
But Russo says abandoning the fort, so to speak, is easier said than done.
 
Russo: “We have canons!  You don’t just call up a storage room and say, I got 11 canons.  You got room for ‘em?”
Ben: “Putting a park in caretaker status would be a heckuva lot more than just closing those big double wooden doors in the front and walking out and locking them.”
Russo: Oh yes.  Because we have responsibility over some of the most precious items California has.  We’ve got things like that all over the state.” 
 
This is still only the governor’s proposal – the legislature will have its say too.  But with the state $24 billion in the red, officials say shutting down state parks is a very real possibility.