Payson contributes funds to open Tonto Bridge park

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — A state park that closed in February will reopen later this month, thanks to funding from an unexpected source.   Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, which closed as part of cost-saving measures for the troubled state parks system, received about $5,000 from the city of Payson to allow it to reopen for at least five weekends. Payson will also contribute about 100 volunteers to help staff the park, Mayor Ken Evans said.

Evans said his cash-strapped city struggled with the decision of whether to donate money to the parks system.  Ultimately, fears of lost revenue from tourism led the city to volunteer money and staff.  More than 87,000 people visited Tonto during fiscal 2008.  The park will open for Memorial Day from May 22 through 25, and then reopen June 6 and 7, 13 and 14, 20 and 21, and 27 and 28.

The parks system closed McFarland and Jerome State Historic parks earlier this year, after lawmakers cut its budget by more than $36 million in the past year.  To reopen Tonto, officials will charge the salaries of two seasonal rangers to Payson.  The rangers make $11 an hour, parks operations chief Janet Hawks said in a statement.  In February, parks officials said closing the park would allow for repairs at Tonto’s lodge.  Spokeswoman Ellen Bilbrey said Tuesday that work has not yet begun on the lodge, and that visitors will not be able to use it when the park reopens.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Arizona’s McFarland State Historic Park closes

McFarland State Historic Park, Florence

[Source: Arizona State Parks] — Pinal County’s first courthouse, built in 1878, has been slowly deteriorating since 2001 while Arizona State Parks has saved Heritage Fund monies to get the building repaired.  Today all the buildings at the park closed in anticipation of the re-opening to the public. Structural stabilization of the historic adobe foundation had been slated for completion in 2009.  “Unfortunately in recent years, the structural damage from rain has been so bad that we had to close the historic courthouse last October and staff started dismantling the exhibits in preparation of the renovations,” explained Chief of Operations, Janet Hawks.  “We have been saving funds in the account so that we could finally repair the rock foundation, wide cracks in the adobe walls, crumbling wood porch, add support beams, and grade the site to prevent further destruction.  The deterioration of the foundation poses a threat to the building.  We sent bids for construction out last fall, but now everything is on hold until after our February 20th Board meeting,” she said.

Governor Ernest McFarland bought the Courthouse in 1974 and donated it to the State Parks department.  Another facility behind the Courthouse was built later as a repository for his personal papers.  In 1976 the state legislature did not allocate operating funds so the new Park’s opening date was pushed back.  It wasn’t until March of 1977, during Arizona’s 20th anniversary, that McFarland State Park was opened to the public and later dedicated by Governor Bruce Babbitt.

For 32 years tourists and busloads of children have toured this State Park to experience Arizona’s history and learn how territorial justice was served.  They also were taught about Florence’s World War II POW camps and about one of Arizona’s visionary’s, Governor McFarland, who created the State Parks system 52 years ago.  Interpretive tours of the park feature the courtroom and judge’s chambers, the sheriff’s office, and the jail.  The second story was used as a jury room and quarters for visiting lawmen.  Most of the courthouses’ artifacts were moved out just recently, including McFarland’s personal papers.  The papers will be transferred to the Arizona Library and Archives’ new state-of-the-art building in Phoenix where researchers will be able to more readily access them.  The park staff, who have been preparing for the renovation, will be reassigned to other parks.

A new interpretive plan will be introduced once the stabilization is completed.  The focus for the new exhibits in the Courthouse will feature Arizona’s Territorial history and law and order.  The 1882 jail will be reproduced within the courthouse building.  New updated exhibits about Governor “Mac” McFarland and the World War II Florence POW camp will be displayed in the renovated museum and archives buildings.