Over 200 Arizonans rally for parks and conservation at Environmental Day at the Capitol

[Source: Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club 2-1-2010] — Today at the Arizona State Capitol, more than 25 groups and over 200 people rallied for Arizona State Parks.  Speakers at the rally included House Minority Whip, Representative Chad Campbell; State Parks Board Chair, Reese Woodling; Richard Dozer, Chairman, Governor’s Sustainable State Parks Task Force; Bill Meek, Chairman, Arizona State Parks Foundation; and Elizabeth Woodin, President, Arizona Heritage Alliance.  They all focused on the challenges to the parks, but importantly, on what everyone can do to help save the State Parks and the State Parks system.

Arizona State Parks’ system consists of 27 parks and three natural areas and includes places such as Homolovi Ruins, the Tubac Presidio, Lost Dutchman State Park, Kartchner Caverns, among many others.  Recently, the State Parks Board voted to close 13 of these parks due to the lack of operational funding.  Four additional parks had previously closed: Jerome State Historic Park, McFarland State Historic Park, Oracle State Park, and the San Rafael Natural Area.  By mid-year 2010, more than half of our State Park system will be closed and, without additional funding, nine more parks will likely close later this year.

The parks are closing because the Arizona Legislature has left them with almost no operational dollars.  Arizona State Parks has had no increase in operating funds since 2002, a limited capital budget since 2003, and unmet capital needs of $150 million.  The agency currently stands at a 40 percent personnel vacancy rate.  The latest cuts by the Legislature will mean the loss of 70 more positions.  At parks where law enforcement, public safety, and water safety must be provided, reductions in staff means those parks must close.  State Parks was prepared to limp along with a seasonal park system on $19 million of revenue composed mainly of the enhancement fund (park entrance fees), state lake improvement fund (gas and usage tax), and lottery revenues (Heritage Fund).  However, the Arizona Legislature diverted and swept away about half of that, leaving State Parks with almost no source of operating funds.

“These 30 exceptional places have been conserved over the past half century for the recreational, environmental, and cultural enjoyment of all Arizonans,” said Sandy Bahr with the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter.  “They represent our history and our future.  We must do better as stewards of these amazing resources.”

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