Arizona could be the first state to shut down its park system.
That’s sad. Shortsighted. And, frankly, just plain dumb.
Arizona’s parks system is limping into the next fiscal year with few assurances it will exist after June 30, the result of lawmakers reducing its budget by nearly 80 percent since 2007.
Lawmakers cut an additional $3.9 million in the special session that recently adjourned. Efforts to save the system through legislation have stalled. And while discussions continue, parks continue to close.
The system’s fate will be clearer at the parks board meeting next month, said Renee Bahl, the parks director.
Board members are not optimistic.
“We’re so depressed up here, I don’t think we can even answer a question,” said the board’s chairman, Reese Woodling, after a bleak presentation from Kent Ennis, parks budget director.
“I don’t know how I can keep doing this every month,” Ennis replied.
“It just keeps getting worse and worse,” Woodling said.
State Parks are an important part of Arizona’s economy. They’re a playground for everyone from hikers and photographers to fishermen and history buffs—and for all nature lovers.
A 2007 study estimated the direct expenditures by visitors to Arizona state parks at $163 million that year. The total economic impact was $266 million.
In the short run, support from local communities and private donations can fill part of the gaping hole in the parks budget. But, what about the long term?
Arizona officials vote to keeping some parks open
Six Arizona state parks slated for closure will stay open, at least for now, after the Parks Board approved agreements to accept money from city governments and other state agencies. The move preserves some well-known parks, but 13 facilities remain closed or slated for closure by June 3. The Legislature has cut 61 percent of the state parks budget since July.
Payson will subsidize operations at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and delay the park’s planned closure from June 3 until Sept. 27. The town will provide $25,000 to offset the operating loss for the world’s largest travertine arch, which contributes an estimated $3.6 million annually to the region’s economy. Payson officials have said the park is critical to the city’s efforts to attract tourists. The move will keep the park open five days a week during the busy summer tourism season, when some residents of sunny Phoenix seek refuge in cooler mountain towns such as Payson.
Agreements with Camp Verde, Yuma, and Tombstone call for those cities to take over part or all of the operations at Fort Verde, Yuma Territorial Prison, and Tombstone Courthouse state historic parks. The Camp Verde agreement lasts one year; the Yuma and Tombstone agreements last three years. To read an recently posted article on Tombstone, click here.
The Arizona Historical Society will take over most of the cost for Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff, delaying its closure at least three years.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department will put up money to delay the planned closure of Roper Lake State Park by two months while park supporters try to come up with a longer-term plan.
Parks Director Renee Bahl said the parks department could resume funding to the parks if the budget improves in the future. “But for now we are very appreciative of (cities) stepping in and helping us in this time of crisis,” she said.
The Parks Board declined a request by Lake Havasu City to take over Lake Havasu State Park, one of the system’s most profitable facilities. Its surplus revenue is used to fund other parks that cost more money to operate than they generate. Lake Havasu City officials have said they’d like the park’s revenue to stay in town instead of supporting parks in other parts of the state.
Budget Permanently Eliminates Programs
The Arizona package of budget bills signed by Gov. Jan Brewer permanently eliminates more than half a dozen state programs, including a state parks preservation fund. The FY10-11 Arizona budget eliminates the state parks’ share of the Heritage Fund. The voter initiated fund used money from the state lottery to preserve parks, trails, and historical sites as well as build ballparks and soccer fields according to Janice Miano, a member of the Arizona Heritage Alliance, a group that fought to preserve the fund. “All the things that make Arizona a unique place where people want to visit and to live, it’s gone,” she said.
Texan donates $8,000 to keep Lost Dutchman State Park open
A philanthropic winter visitor from Texas stunned a crowd of Lost Dutchman State Park supporters by plunking down a check for $8,000, enough to keep the threatened park open for about one month. Taylor H. Sanford Jr.’s generosity culminated a meeting where Assistant Arizona State Parks Director Jay Ream told supporters hoping to keep the park open that they need about $25,000 to keep the park open during the slow summer months. Hours before making the donation, Sanford, 76, who winters in the Leisure World retirement community in east Mesa and lives in Katy, Texas, said he and a group of friends from Leisure World hiked four miles in the park.
Tubac vows to keep park open
Undaunted by a planned March 29 closure for the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, community members have pledged more than $28,000 to keep the facility open to the public—and the fundraising isn’t over yet. A letter detailing the monetary support and the proposed operations guidelines, including decreased hours of operation, was submitted by the Tubac Historical Society and other groups to Rene Bahl, director of Arizona State Parks.
The proposed budget for 12 months is $60,000. Of that, about $30,000 will come from entrance fees, said Shaw Kinsley, president of the Tubac Historical Society. The additional $30,000 is to be raised locally.
The Arizona State Park system must NOT collapse! What can YOU DO TO SAVE IT?
Make it a good day! Get outdoors! Visit a state park today—while they’re still open for your recreational enjoyment!
Decide to make the most of each moment! Visit a state park today!
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Please note: This is Part 25 of an on-going series on America’s parks and public lands
Other articles in this series
RVing 101: More on the status of state parks and public lands, part 9
RVing 101: More on the status of state parks and public lands, part 8
RVing 101: More on the status of state parks and public lands, part 7
RVing 101: More on the status of state parks and public lands, part 6
RVing 101: Efforts under way to keep Arizona state parks open
Read even more of Rex’s articles: All stories