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Mono Lake taken off state park closure list

Mono Lake State Natural Reserve, an eerie Eastern Sierra landscape of tufa towers built up from deposits of limestone from freshwater springs, has been stricken from the list of state parks targeted for closure by July 2012, officials announced Thursday.

The move capped a 6-month grassroots campaign led by nonprofit groups of environmentalists and concerned citizens including the Bodie Foundation and the 16,000-member Mono Lake Committee, which is dedicated to protecting the park and its hyper-saline bowl-shaped ecosystem roughly half the size of Rhode Island.

An estimated 80% of all California gulls are hatched at Mono Lake.

PHOTOS: Mono Lake

The reserve leaves the list of 70 parks slated for closure because of broad public support and a "parking fee solution" to state agency concerns about offsetting annual operating expenses of roughly $111,000, state officials said. Under an agreement with the agency, the Bodie Foundation will operate a concession to collect fees of about $3 per vehicle at a popular area on the west side of the lake.

The concession program could be operating by early next year, officials said.

"This is the best Christmas present we could ever wish for. This state park is critical to keeping Mono Lake protected for future generations," said Sally Gaines, Mono Lake Committee board chair. "It's great news that creative solutions will keep it open."

Supporters provided more than 4,000 letters and petition signatures, which were hand-delivered to Gov. Jerry Brown, Parks Director Ruth Coleman, Mono County's state Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, and state Sen. Ted Gaines.

Robert Hanna, the great-great-grandson of John Muir, said, "Behind every great accomplishment you'll find togetherness, and it was a pleasure to work alongside everyone who answered the call to protect Mono Lake."

MAP: Mono Lake

The nearly million-year-old alkaline Mono Lake at the base of the jagged eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada, remains a critical draw for local businesses straddling Highway 395, about 350 miles north of Los Angeles.

"The reserve and its remarkable ecosystem dodged the bullet because of hard work and great collaborative ideas," said Jeanne Sisson, acting superintendent of the Alpine/Mono Sector of California State Parks.


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-- Louis Sahagun reporting from Lee Vining, Calif.

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