McGrath State Beach, a popular camping spot by the Oxnard shore, will close indefinitely in September for lack of $500,000 to replace an aging sewer line and lift station, state park officials said Thursday.
"We have to close the park because the sewer infrastructure has gotten to a point of decay where I can't in good conscience keep it open," said Richard Rozelle, superintendent of state parks and beaches in the area.
In 2010, engineers studied the sewer line, which crosses the bird-rich estuary of the Santa Clara River and concluded that it could fail in two years. Rozelle said he wanted to give the public "a chance for one more summer" before shutting the Ventura County park.
McGrath's 188 campsites sit beside dunes that stretch along two miles of coastline. Although state budget problems have limited hours and services at more than half of the state's 278 parks, McGrath will be among the first to close. Rozelle said he had no idea when it would reopen.
"A lot of parks have older infrastructure than McGrath and when they start failing, other managers will have to make the same decision," he said.
Rudi Storr was smoking a cigarette and flying a kite at McGrath on Thursday afternoon when he heard about the state's decision.
"That's ridiculous," he said. "It's supposed to be our beach, right? Isn't it, 'We the people?' "
Hauling a travel trailer behind his truck, Storr, 70, was on a meandering route from his home in Sedona, Ariz., to his daughter's place in Reno. He retired from his engineering job last year and loves to travel — relying on a dwindling number of inexpensive spots like McGrath for overnights.
That's the irony of the McGrath closure, said Jerry Emory, a spokesman for the California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the parks.
"In the current economic situation, state parks have been rediscovered and visitation rates have gone through the ceiling," he said. "People have realized what a great, inexpensive alternative they are."
Emory said parks throughout the state are riddled with corroded pipes, eroding trails, bad roads and leaking roofs. Perpetually underfunded, they are facing $1.2 billion in expenses for delayed repairs, he said.