State Parks: Lifeblood of Rural Communities

[Source: Mary King, Sedona.biz] – Over a hundred people attended the meeting at the Sedona Library on September 30th to learn about the fate of the state parks, which the legislature has voted to close. The attendees were treated to a 13 minute film entitled The Future of Our State Parks. It showcased the beauty of our state and local parks including Red Rock, Dead Horse Ranch, Slide Rock and Jerome (which has been closed) State Parks and Fort Verde Historic Park.

After that, a panel that included Chip Davis, Park Supervisor for Yavapai County; legislator Sandy Bahr; Former State Senator Tom O’Halleran; and Sedona Mayor Rob Adams discussed the many aspects of the issue. Missing was Republican Tobin, who declined the invitation to attend.

Economic Issues Outshone Environmental Concerns:
The park closings have been cast by the legislature as an issue that appeals to only liberal environmentalists. It has been framed as a necessary cost-cutting measure to be attractive to conservatives. However, some say revenues lost to the state and rural communities will be far greater than the dollars saved by the demise of these recreational/historical areas:

» 8 million dollars would be saved by closing the parks.
» 260 million in tourist dollars could be lost by closing the parks that includes the money spent by park visitors on hotels, restaurants, gas, gift shops, etc.
» 3,347 jobs in rural communities would be gone.

Privatization:
Chip Davis summed up the idea of privatization when he said, “In 1957, Arizona was the last state to establish a state park system. Let’s not be the first state to dismantle our state park system.”  One speaker stated that he was sure that the closing of the state parks was a calculated move on the Governor’s part towards privatization.

Privatization is a complex issue, which could entail having the Arizona State Park System run by an out-of-state entity. It could mean expanding the use of the park by private vendors that would offer services that the park service would want to contract out like concession stands, thereby using non-state funds to operate the park system.

Initiatives to Save the Parks:
It was clear that the members had given a lot of thought to ways to create a permanent funding source for the future. Mayor Rob Adams stated that Sedona could not afford to fund their parks next year. He had consulted with an event planner to see what type of revenues could be had if an outdoor event like a wedding was held at Red Rock State Park (without infringing on the environment). The event planner estimated that one event could yield a hundred thousand dollars.

Another speaker said, compared to neighboring states like New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, we get very little revenues from our mineral resource-copper. The copper is owned by the citizens of Arizona. Likewise, these neighboring states put much more money into their state park system.

Verde Valley Has the Most State Parks:
This region has the most to lose with the closing of the parks. We have lost Jerome State Park. 80% of Arizonians are urban dwellers, and their cities pay for their local parks. Scottsdale pays over two hundred dollars per person per year to fund their local parks. Our state parks and the tourism it generates is our lifeblood, and as a region we need to let the legislature and the Governor to know our concerns, especially in an election year.

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