Arizona parks officials preparing park closure list

Tombstone tombstone

[Source: KSWT/Associated Press] — Arizona State Parks officials are reacting to recent budget cuts by preparing to recommend which parks must be closed for lack of funding, the start of a process that they warn could turn into a systemwide “death spiral.”

Executive Director Rene Bahl plans to present the parks board with recommendations on park closings for consideration during a Jan. 15 meeting.  The recommendations would implement an $8.6 million budget cut approved during the Legislature’s December special session to help reduce the state’s big budget shortfall.  [Note: Read the full article at Arizona parks officials preparing park closure list.]

Widow’s hefty donation to Arizona parks is poached

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — In their latest effort to solve Arizona’s budget crisis with cuts, lawmakers turned to a woman who couldn’t make a fuss.  After all, she has been dead for eight years.  Alta Forest, a Danish immigrant who fell in love with Arizona after moving to Fountain Hills with her husband, left nearly $250,000 to the Arizona State Parks Board when she died of cancer at age 82.

When parks officials received the money in 2003, it was the largest private donation the parks system had ever received.  They were unprepared for such a large gift, said Ken Travous, who served as state-parks director for 23 years before retiring in June.  “We had never received anything of that magnitude before,” he said, adding that he began “looking for something that was big enough to really make her proud.”

While parks officials considered what to do with the money, Arizona’s budget deficit ballooned into the billions.  Last month, when the Republican-led Legislature met in special session to cut $140 million from the budget, it swept up half the money in the parks system’s donations fund, which included most of Forest’s donation.  “It was like they had kicked me in the stomach,” Travous said.  “Surely, I thought, they have some shame.  But they’re shameless.”  [Note: Read the full article at Widow’s hefty donation to Arizona parks is poached.]

Documentary to air plight of Arizona’s state parks

Arizona’s state parks and Heritage Fund are in crisis.  In the upcoming documentary, “Postcards from the Parks: Finding a Future for Arizona’s Heritage,” four friends set out to learn why and to find out what can be done.

They visit all Arizona’s state parks and discover natural wonders, great recreation, and fascinating history.  They talk to leading citizens, park managers, volunteers, and park visitors to learn how important the parks are to the fabric of life in Arizona.  They check the numbers and see just how little our parks cost compared to the economic benefits they bring to our state, counties, and towns.  They dig to the heart of the matter to find out why our parks system is eroding, and what needs to be done to make it right.

Our parks can be saved.  In fact, they can thrive and continue to enrich all aspects of Arizona life now and for generations to come — if we make the right decisions.  The film will be released later this month.  The goal is to show the film and discuss its ramifications in communities all across the state.  If you would like the film shown in your community, contact the Arizona Heritage Alliance at 602-528-7500 or by e-mail.

Arizona State Parks Board considers cuts

Reese Woodling, parks board chairman, reacts to news Thursday that some parks would need to close. (Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)

[Source: Ed Tribble, Channel 12 News] — The latest round of budget cuts earlier this month could close down most state parks. Arizona State Parks Board members met Thursday to look at their options.  State parks are supposed to be tranquil places, somewhere to get away from life’s troubles. But due to budget cuts, the parks themselves are in trouble. “Without these state parks, people will be at a loss on where to go,” says Parks Board Chairman Reese Woodling.

At Thursday’s meeting, board members are making priorities: keep open parks that make money, and ones that don’t cost too much to run.  In mid December, lawmakers raided about $9 million from the park’s coffers. “It’s a horrible situation and sends a terrible message to our kids and future generations that we’re not willing to step up during these tough times,” says Sandy Bahr with the Sierra Club.

No word yet on which parks will close.  But some communities like Lake Havasu City let board members know they would be willing to lease parks so they could stay open. “We believe we could fold those into our existing park system, it’s close to another park, something we believe we could do very easily,” Lake Havasu City Mayor Mark Nexsen says.

In the long term, the parks department would like to add a fee to vehicle registration. Cars with Arizona license plates could get into parks for free.  Out of state visitors would have to pay.   [Note: Read the full article at Arizona State Parks Board considers cuts.]