Arizona state park closures will turn away visitors and their money

[Source: Bill Coates, Arizona Capitol Times] — The Civil War has been cancelled, due to lack of funding. The most historic mansion in Jerome can no longer defer its deferred maintenance. It closed to visitors Feb. 27.  And don’t bother walking over — or under — the world’s largest natural travertine bridge. That just closed, too — because of needed repairs to an old lodge that houses the gift shop.  Then there’s the 130-year-old adobe courthouse in Florence.  It’s in bad shape.  The McFarland State Historic Park closed in early February.

Such is the fate of parks and programs operated by Arizona State Parks. More closures are likely in the works, perhaps as many as eight.  All told, about half the state’s 22 parks could turn visitors away.  Blame the budget.  To help close a hole, the Legislature wants the parks department to hand over some $34.6 million through 2010.  It’s called a fund sweep.

The parks offer no critical public services.  They don’t provide medical care to the poor.  They don’t offer a college education.  They’re there just to enjoy and learn from.  And one other thing: They draw people and their money to rural communities.  For visitors, the parks present a smorgasbord of Arizona history, Indian culture and nature.  Some encompass thousands of acres.  Some consist of a few weathered buildings.

The two that closed this week are as different as day and night.  Jerome State Historic Park tells the story of one of Arizona’s most colorful mining towns.  It’s housed in a mansion built by copper-mine baron James Douglas.  The town of Jerome overlooks the sprawling whitewashed building.  Tourists gazing down on it can be heard to ask who lives there.  The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park describes a high geological arch, formed over thousands of years.  Travertine refers to the limestone and weathering process used to make it.  The park closed Feb. 27, pending repairs to the gift shop — and a turnaround in the state’s revenue picture.  [Note: to read the full article, click here.]