Arizonans worried about possible state park closures

Oracle State Park

[Source: Associated Press] — To many people living in southeastern Pinal County, the Oracle State Park is a hidden environmental gem that draws the local rural communities together.  So concern over its possible closure as part of the state’s attempt to cut a $1.6 billion budget deficit has rippled like a shockwave through Oracle, an unincorporated community 45 miles northeast of Tucson, and the surrounding area.  “Oracle is not incorporated; we’re not a town, we’re not a city,” said area resident Julie Szekely.  “We have no legal entity to provide things like a place for people to get together and do things as a community…  We use Oracle State Park as our neighborhood gathering place.”

The 4,000-acre park was among eight of Arizona’s 27 state parks that officials initially recommended for closure, for a five-month savings of $844,840, because of midyear spending cuts imposed by legislation that Gov. Jan Brewer signed last weekend.  Action on the recommended closures has been tabled temporarily as Arizona Parks Board members examine other alternatives, but 47 state parks seasonal employees were put on leave without pay Friday.

The eight parks recommended for closure had relatively low visitation rates. Officially, the Oracle park only reported 9,989 visitors during 2007-08.  But the front entrance gate is unmanned, with only an honor system for visitors to pay $6 per vehicle without annual passes.  The count likely doesn’t reflect the true number of visitors, more repeat visits by pass-holders and the park’s 125 to 150 volunteers, said Tina Acosta, the park’s assistant manager.  Padlocking its gate would trim $116,000 from the park’s budget through June 30.

Acosta said she fears that “the preservation, conservation, educational, and cultural heritage are not being taken into consideration” by bean-counters. “I think a lot of the more rural parks are very connected to the communities,” she said.  “The people are more connected to the parks.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Roper, 7 other Arizona state parks to remain open for now

Roper Lake State Park

[Source: Diane Saunders, Eastern Arizona Courier] — Roper Lake State Park south of Safford dodged an economic bullet Feb. 4 when the Arizona State Parks Board decided not to close eight state parks in an effort to help the state budget crisis.  Instead, the State Parks Board will examine other ways to overcome a budget deficit at its Feb. 20 meeting, according to the department’s Web site.

Roper Lake and seven other Arizona state parks were targeted for closure after the Arizona Legislature decided to divert money from the agency to help balance the state’s budget.  According to the Arizona State Parks Department, Roper is one of the costliest parks in Arizona to operate.  Nearly 86,000 people visit Roper each year, however, the cost to the state is $2.51 per visitor.  In comparison, Arizona’s costliest park to operate is McFarland State Historic Park in Pinal County.  That park draws 4,945 visitors a year and it costs the state $37.94 per visitor to operate, according to the Arizona State Parks Department.

Only two of Arizona’s state parks make money — Catalina in Pima County and Kartchner Caverns in Cochise County.  Catalina has 168,874 visitors a year and makes a profit of 90 cents per visitor.  Kartchner draws 160,013 visitors a year and makes $2.51 per visitor.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Viewpoint: Regional rescue plan needed to keep Fort Verde state park open

Fort Verde State Historic Park

[Source: Dan Engler, Editor, Verde News] — Talk of government budget cuts are often like the boy who cried wolf.  They’re designed to attract attention.  They are the means to an end.  Such was the case the last time the folks from Arizona State Parks announced plans to close some of our state parks in the Verde Valley.  It was March 1991 and both Fort Verde and Dead Horse State Parks were on the chopping block.  At least that was what we were told by Arizona State Parks.

It caused an uproar.  More than 100 folks showed up to a public meeting in Cottonwood to protest the closing of Dead Horse. There, we learned courtesy of former District 1 Rep. Don Aldridge, that State Parks was playing poker.  The strategy, Aldridge explained, was to create controversy in various communities throughout the state to stimulate political pressure to preserve, or even bolster, the budget of State Parks.  Aldridge characterized it as bureaucratic gamesmanship and outright scare tactics.

In the end, Aldridge was proved right when former Gov. Fife Symington devised a plan to earmark 50 percent of State Parks’ acquisition of development fund to maintain the operation of the existing parks, Fort Verde and Dead Horse among them. State Parks simply was given permission to shift funds from one portion of its budget — the Kartchner Caverns slush fund — to another to stem the early ’90s so-called budget crisis.

The boy who cried wolf was exposed.  His bluff was called.  This time, it’s different.  This is not a case of crying wolf.  This budget crisis is the real thing.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Eight Arizona State Parks to close due to budget crisis

[Source: Paul Davenport, Associated Press] — Arizona officials are recommending the immediate closure of eight state parks because of midyear spending cuts imposed under legislation signed by Gov. Jan Brewer to eliminate a revenue shortfall.  Parks Director Ken Travous told The Associated Press on Monday that he will recommend the closures to the Parks Board when it holds a special meeting Tuesday morning regarding the budget cuts.

Travous said he picked the parks recommended for closure because of their higher per-visitor costs among the 27 state parks.  The eight parks recommended for closure all have relatively low visitation rates.  In 2007-2008, for example, 4,945 visitations were reported for McFarland and 9,989 for Oracle.  Those numbers are well below the parks with the highest number of visitors: Slide Rock with 249,759 and Lake Havasu with 248,851.  Parks officials caution that more closures may be needed because of fiscal restraints.

The budget changes approved Friday night and Saturday morning by the Legislature closed a $1.6 billion shortfall in the state’s current $9.9 billion budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.  Legislative budget analysts have estimated that there could be a $3 billion shortfall in the next budget.

Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, said the park closures could economically damage the rural communities where the parks are located.  “When you make cuts there is a ripple effect,” she said.  “The communities are going to have to find another way to draw visitors.”

The parks recommended for closure are: Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde, Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, Lyman Lake State Park in Springerville, McFarland State Historic Park in Florence, Oracle State Park in Oracle, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park in Tubac, and Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]