New fees proposed for Kartchner tour

[Source: Sierra Vista Herald]

The Arizona State Parks department staff is proposing a fee change for one of the two cave tours at Kartchner Caverns State Park.

A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns
A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns. Image via Wikipedia

The new fee proposal is to change the Rotunda/Throne adult cave tours from $18.95 to $22.95 and children’s fees (7- to 12-year-old) from $9.95 to $12.95 and (6 and under free).

Public comments on these fees will be accepted online until Aug. 29. Comments may be submitted at

The Arizona State Parks Board will be presented this information from park staff who say this solution will increase income to the park and reduce overhead costs by suspending tours in the Rotunda/Throne room from Oct. 15 until Dec. 15. This will also allow time for this portion of the cave to have a rest from the public while research can be conducted.

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Kartchner Caverns chosen to represent state in contest

[Source: Sierra Vista Herald]

Kartchner Caverns State Park has been chosen as the nominee to help the state parks system win $100,000 in the  “Live Positively, America’s Favorite Park Program” being coordinated by Coca-Cola.

In anticipation of Friday’s launch, Reneé Bahl, executive director for Arizona’s State Parks said, “We would like the public to follow our lead and consolidate their votes so Arizona State Parks can win. We polled our rangers to get a consensus on one park so we have a better chance to win this amazing prize for the whole system. Some states have a higher population, some higher visitation, but we believe Arizonans have the greatest passion for all their parks and the outdoors so they will join us in voting for Kartchner Caverns State Park.”

The staff decided that Kartchner Caverns epitomizes the natural resource stewardship and commitment of Arizonans. Kartchner is now one of the top 10 show caves in the world for the diversity of its stunning calcite formations and symbolizes the extraordinary efforts taken by elected officials, park rangers and the public who took unprecedented steps to protect and open this pristine cavern system in 1999.

“This living cave has character and a persona. If you haven’t gotten a cave kiss from Kartchner Caverns, you haven’t lived,” says park director Bahl.

While park officials want you to vote as many times as possible for Kartchner Caverns, they say it is more important that you also visit your favorite park.

Votes will be tallied on Aug. 31.

Go to and vote for Kartchner Caverns State Park.

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Board votes to close 21 of 30 Arizona state parks by June

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — The Arizona State Parks Board voted unanimously Friday to begin shuttering state parks, a move that will leave the parks system with fewer than one third of its properties open by June 3.  In an emotional public meeting that lasted nearly six hours, parks-board members heard from dozens of residents from across the state, pleading to keep the parks open despite steep budget cuts.

Local elected officials warned of dire economic consequences to their towns.  Sheriff’s deputies said they will no longer be able to patrol some lakes.  Park volunteers offered to run the parks for free.  But board members said they had no choice but to close 21 of 30 parks and recreation areas following last month’s special session of the Legislature, in which $8.6 million was cut from their budget.  That was on top of $34 million in cuts in the previous year.  “Unfortunately, we don’t have options,” said Walter Armer, a member of the board.

Among the most popular parks slated for closure are Roper Lake, which drew 86,000 visitors in 2008, and Picacho Peak, which drew more than 98,000.  The parks that will remain open generate revenue for the system, such as Slide Rock and Kartchner Caverns.  The parks system records more than 2.2 million total visits a year, according to the Arizona State Parks Department.  Armer added that the board would work to reopen the parks as soon as it had the funds to do so.

Several proposals are making the rounds in the Legislature, including one that would add a roughly $9 fee to the cost of registering a vehicle.  The money would pay for park operations, and Arizonans would then be able to get into any state park without paying an additional fee.  The proposal with the most support at the moment would refer the question of whether to impose that fee to voters, said Jay Ziemann, the department’s legislative liaison.

Wittmann resident Chrissy Kondrat-Smith took her daughter, Sydney, to every state park one recent summer.  The 4,000-mile journey inspired Sydney to become a junior park ranger at Red Rock State Park, which is slated to close.  Sydney, 8, recorded a video letter to Santa Claus over the holidays, asking him to keep the parks open.  Sydney began crying when she learned the parks would close.  She couldn’t understand why the parks can’t stay open with volunteer labor, her mother said.

Others expressed concern about what will happen to the parks once staff members aren’t around to protect them. Although the parks board does intend the closed parks to be patrolled, it remains unclear how many staffers will be available.

Charles Adams, a professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, warned that closed parks would become magnets for vandals and thieves.  Adams expressed particular concern for the Homolovi Ruins, an archaeological treasure that was brought into the parks system in part to protect it from theft.  “There is great concern in the archaeological community as some of these close,” Adams told the board.  “They are extremely vulnerable.”

As the meeting concluded, members of the parks staff received word that Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget proposal released Friday would make further reductions to the parks budget, which could make Arizona the first state in the nation to close its entire parks system.  “We have a huge collective fight on our hands,” said Arlan Colton, a member of the board.  “And that’s our fight for survival.”  [Note: To read the full article, visit Board votes to close 21 of 30 Arizona state parks by June.]

Viewpoint: Arizona Legislature raids legacy of dead woman

[Source: Arizona Republic editorial board] — Stealing a dead woman’s legacy — that’s how far the Legislature has gone in its raid on funding for Arizona State Parks.  Our parks system has taken a wildly disproportionate hit in state budget-balancing efforts.  It has been years since the state itself put any money into the parks.  Now, lawmakers are draining virtually every other source of revenue.

Including $250,000 bequeathed by Asta Forrest, a Danish immigrant and Fountain Hills resident.  She gave the money with no strings attached (big mistake, as it turns out), just because she loved Arizona State Parks.  Forrest must have seen how state parks offer the best of Arizona for entertainment and education.  From Lake Havasu to Kartchner Caverns to Picacho Peak to the Tombstone Courthouse, there are places for boating, hiking, fishing, birding, swimming, sightseeing, and exploring.  In a tourism-oriented state, these are economic assets as well as part of our quality of life.

Yet in December, lawmakers siphoned so much out of state-park accounts, including money from entrance fees, that the very existence of the system is at stake.  That $8.6 million raid filled just a speck of this year’s $1.5 billion state budget hole.  On Jan. 15, the State Parks Board will weigh what parks to close — with the risk of going into a death spiral of falling entrance fees that force more and more closures.  It’s time to consider a task force’s proposal to fund parks with an optional $15 vehicle-registration surcharge.

In this crisis, every state agency must endure painful cuts.  But not gutting.  [Note: To read the full editorial online, visit Viewpoint: Arizona Legislature raids legacy of dead woman.]