Strong civic spirit saves our state parks

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] –  A cavalry of volunteers, local communities and non-profit groups rode to the rescue when more than half of the state park system was on the verge of shutting down. They’ve done a heroic job of keeping the doors open at historic sites such as FortVerde, scenic wonders such as PicachoPeak and recreational playgrounds such as Sedona’s Red Rocks. The value of volunteer work alone was an amazing $5.5 million last fiscal year, which ended June 30. Some parks run on reduced schedules, and some close seasonally. But only one of 27, Oracle State Park, is closed (and there’s a move to provide limited access).

We applaud not only the civic spirit but the financial good sense of those rallying behind Arizona State Parks. In a state that depends heavily on tourism, these are valuable assets with long-term potential. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, for instance, had a $3.56 million economic impact in fiscal 2007. It’s so important to the region that the communities of Payson and StarValley, plus a “friends of” group, held fundraisers and chipped in cash and labor to keep it running. The rescue efforts are critical stopgaps. But Arizona State Parks must still become financially solid for the long haul. Maintenance and capital projects cannot continue to be neglected.

Step 1 is for legislators to stop emptying the till. They cut off all state support years ago, and now, they’re sweeping up the dollars earned through admissions and concessions. Thanks to all the help, Arizona State Parks ended last fiscal year with a $1.7 million operating profit, but it was siphoned into the state budget, plus an extra $400,000. Besides stopping the revenue raids, Arizonans need to figure out a steady revenue stream for park maintenance and improvements. The cavalry needs permanent reinforcements