FORESTHILL (CBS13) — A controversial plan to add new campgrounds to the Auburn State Recreation Area passed unanimously by state park commissioners Thursday, even as people who live in the area voiced their concerns over the increased wildfire risk.
John Michelini is board president of the Foresthill Fire Protection District and has been a vocal opponent to the expansion plan. His Foresthill home has a back deck overlooking the Auburn State Recreation Area.READ MORE: Suspected Gunman In Shooting Of Black Man Outside Stockton Bank Charged With Hate Crime
“There’s homes on that hillside,” Michelini said as he looked out at the state park. “Just over the hill, where the trees are in the sun, is where the Trailhead Fire started.”
In this peaceful landscape pairing homes and wildlife, wildfire concern is now higher than ever.
“Fires occurring in the Auburn State Recreation Area aren’t a matter of inconvenience for these people, it’s a matter of life and death,” Michelini said.
The state’s Park and Recreation Commission unanimously approved a general plan to allow for an increase in the number of campsites there from 36 to 178, along with new trails and parking lots.
Michelini says he now questions whether the state is truly concerned about wildfire danger.
“Are they?” Michelini said. “I mean, it’s one thing to say you’re concerned about wildfires and it’s another thing to actually do something about it.”
Alexandra Stehl is the planning chief for California State Parks.READ MORE: CBS13 Poll: Has COVID-19 Changed Your Opinion On Trick-Or-Treating?
“We take it very seriously,” Stehl said.
Stehl said adding more legal campsites to the popular getaway will equal less illegal camping—a much higher fire risk.
“So if we don’t provide the camping that people are looking for, we increase the risk of them finding their own camping areas,” Stehl said.
The potential for more visitors is also adding to concerns of overcrowded evacuation routes in case of a wildfire. The Foresthill Bridge became blocked during the Bridge Fire in early September.
“Foresthill Road is the main escape route for 7,000 people who live in the Foresthill community,” Michelini said.
People who live alongside the Auburn State Recreation Area are seeking a sense of safety as the state moves forward with big expansion plans.
“We understand that there is some trust that we need to rebuild with the community,” Stehl said.
Thirty people spoke ahead of the vote Thursday. All were opposed to this plan.MORE NEWS: 'It Scares Me': Children Of Man Shot 7 Times In Stockton Describe Fear, Anger
There is no timetable when the state may seek funding to build the new campsites.