Even as 70 state parks are expected to shut down due to state budget cuts, the Moro Campground, site of the former El Morro Village mobile home park in Crystal Cove State Park, opened Friday, July 1, with little fanfare.
“We’ve been working toward this goal for 30 years and have had plans and funding in place for the past 10 years,” said Park Superintendent Todd Lewis, who conceded El Moro’s opening contradicts state policy elsewhere.
The $15 million campground, funded by voter’s passage of Prop. 12 in 2000, boasts 60 tent camping and RV sites with expansive ocean views, parking for 200 day users, beach front bathrooms and a pedestrian tunnel under Coast Highway.
Lewis said 1,500 reservations totaling 4,000 nights of camping at $65 a night were made in the last two weeks. He expects the park to be both popular and lucrative.
One of the very first to occupy a site was Elaine Brashier, outgoing PTA president at adjacent El Morro Elementary, whose parents expressed concerns about the proximity of campers. She was among those offered a pre-opening night of camping and praised the new facilities.
“It was great. They are still doing the finishing touches but it’s a very simple, clean campground. The kids had a blast. It is super accessible. There is a lot of day parking, clean bathrooms. Very clean campgrounds.”
Capt. David Skarman of the Emerald Bay Fire Station expects a significant increase in service calls. The former El Morro trailer park accounted for 70 percent of their calls, he said.
As open fires are not permitted in the campground, wildfires are less of a concern than pedestrians crossing the highway, Skarman said.
After construction began in July 2008, contractors walked off the job in December 2009 when park improvements were halted statewide due to California’s fiscal crises. Renovation of the nearby historic cottages also ceased temporarily.
Park officials expect Moro campground to rival the popularity of the park’s historic cottages, which are perennially reserved and earned $7.4 million last year, the third largest concession in the state park system. Besides $65 a night campsites, day use will cost $15 per vehicle.
Due to concerns raised years ago by El Morro parents, a committee was convened to improve communication between park officials and the school’s constituents. Norma Shelton, assistant district superintendent and a committee member, said concerns included camper trespassing and the functioning of school operations.
“We are aware things will come up once the campground is open so our committee will continue to meet. It is a work in progress. We are being good neighbors both ways,” she said.
For example, check in time for campers is no earlier than 3 p.m., instead of the usual 2 p.m., to avoid interfering with school dismissal.
Principal Chris Duddy said the school will add crossing guards next fall, but no additional security personnel.
Future additions to the campground include an outdoor educational amphitheater and concession store.