[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.]