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A crowded park, worsening wildfire danger sparks battle: 'I don't feel safe there anymore'

Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Numerous fires have burned in and around El Dorado and Placer counties this summer, including: the River fire, which started in a campground near the Auburn State Recreation Area and destroyed 142 structures; the massive Caldor fire, which decimated the town of Grizzly Flats and threatened South Lake Tahoe; and the Bridge fire, which closed the main escape road for the town of Foresthill.

Cal Fire has given much of the Auburn State Recreation Area its most extreme fire danger rating.

The park and nearby towns have already felt the strain of overcrowding due to population growth in the Sacramento suburbs and more people seeking outdoor activities during the pandemic.

Traffic regularly backs up along the two-lane Highway 49, a slow, steep drive with hairpin curves near the American River Confluence and several hiking trails.

Cars park illegally along narrow shoulders. Hikers and bikers flit into oncoming traffic.

The situation got so bad that the city of Auburn launched a bus service this spring to ferry people between downtown and the river, and the park has restricted parking in other areas where congestion threatened to block emergency vehicles.


Lorna Dobrovolny, a former State Parks employee who lives in the town of Cool, said she used to spend every day in the Auburn State Recreation Area, running, hiking and riding her horse. She goes elsewhere now to avoid the crowds.

Locals “have been somewhat displaced due to the congestion. I don’t feel safe there anymore,” said Dobrovolny, 64

Dobrovolny said building more campsites will only invite more people, more campfires and more risk.

California State Parks told The Times last year that visitation to the park had increased about 400% since 1992. The 717-page proposed general plan says visitation is predicted to grow 30% by 2040 because of regional population growth.


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