Community rallies to keep Oracle State Park open

State Sen. Al Melvin (seated at left) listens as docent Mary Bast gives a tour of Oracle State Park's Kannally Ranch House (Photo: Ty Bowers, The Explorer)

[Source: Ty Bowers, The Explorer] — Given the nearly $22 million in immediate budget cuts the Arizona Legislature has proposed for the state park system, keeping Oracle State Park open could prove difficult, Sen. Al Melvin (R-26) told a handful of park supporters Saturday.  “Time is of the essence here,” Melvin said after a tour of the Kannally Ranch House at the park.  On Friday, Feb. 20, the Arizona State Parks Board will vote on whether to close up to eight state parks, the 4,000-acre park in Oracle among them.

A letter-writing campaign could work, especially one featuring a detailed proposal for how the park’s support group, the Friends of Oracle State Park, could help defray operating costs, Melvin strategized.  He would write the parks board, too, the senator said.  “I promise you I will do everything I can … to keep it up and running,” Melvin told a small cadre of some of the park’s most loyal volunteers, many of whom live near Melvin in SaddleBrooke.

Two days earlier, on Feb. 5, more than 100 people had packed the Oracle Community Center to discuss the park’s potential closure.  At that meeting, the Friends of Oracle State Park proposed spending some of $40,000 they had in the bank to keep the park open for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.  It would cost about $1,500 a month to run the park with a shoestring staff — hardly a long-term solution, many volunteers said.

In fiscal 2008, it cost $278,398 to operate the park in Oracle, according to state officials.  The 9,898 recorded visitors to the park brought in $14,492.  When contemplating which parks it might close, the state looked at how much it cost per visitor to operate each park.  It costs $26/visitor to operate Oracle State Park — second highest only to McFarland State Park in Florence.  Numerous people attending the meeting in Oracle last Thursday questioned using cost per visitor as the only metric for deciding which parks to close. “Is that the best way to value a park?” asked Jim Walsh, the Pinal County attorney.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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