Legislature’s neglect of state park system harms Arizona’s economy

[Source: William C. Thornton, Special for the Arizona Daily Star] –Preliminary recommendations by the Governor’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency (“Arizona urged to privatize its parks,” Sept. 22) come as no surprise to those of us who have been on the front lines of the battle to save Arizona’s state parks.

For the rest of us, it should serve as a wake-up call of what’s at stake if a lack of vision and political will is allowed to destroy our state park system. Conveniently, the final proposal won’t be released until after the fall elections; but it’s difficult to envision any park privatization scenario under which Arizona citizens and taxpayers won’t be the big losers.

In comments posted to the Star’s website, one writer asked: “What’s wrong with somebody earning a profit?” The answer: absolutely nothing, and that’s just the point. Hundreds of businesses throughout our state earn profits by supplying park visitors with gas, groceries, supplies, lodging and meals. A 2009 study by Northern Arizona University estimated the total economic impact of our state parks at $266 million per year, about half from out-of-state visitors. When a local park closes, as has already happened at Winslow (Homolovi), Springerville (Lyman Lake), and Oracle, visitors and the dollars they spend go away.

You may ask: “Won’t they do just as well under private management?” The answer: Not likely! Private operators will, no doubt, be eager to take over profitable parks such as Catalina, Kartchner Caverns and the Colorado River parks. They probably won’t show much interest in smaller parks that, in themselves, aren’t profitable but still support local jobs [to read the full article click here].

Kartchner Caverns hosts astronomy night

[Source: azcentral.com]

Stars shine brighter away from city lights. That’s why astronomers look for remote places to place telescopes, and why stargazing events often take place in parks away from towns.

This weekend, Arizona State Parks invites you to spend an evening with astronomer Bob Gent at Kartchner Caverns State Park near Benson.

“He’s . . . an avid astronomer. He’s done it all over the country,” assistant park manager Chris DeMille said.

This is the second year of the event. “Last time we did this, we had five telescopes. This time we’re shooting for a little bit more.”

Visitors will be able to see Jupiter, Venus, craters of the moon, stars and galaxies. Gent is a past president of the Astronomical League and the International Dark Sky Association, and other astronomers will assist him during the event.

Visitors are asked to bring a folding chair and a flashlight covered with a red cap (available at sporting-goods stores). A piece of red cellophane placed over the flashlight beam also works. The event starts before sunset so people can learn a bit about astronomy before the viewing begins. The park’s café is closed at night, so bring snacks and drinks if desired. Bring a sweater or jacket, too.

“We’re at 4,600 feet, so it’s a little more comfortable,” DeMille said.

Kartchner Caverns is known for its colorful stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and other features. The park is at the base of the Whetstone Mountains, with views of the San Pedro Valley.

The park has two main caves open for tours, the Rotunda and the Big Room. The Big Room is open from Oct. 15 to April 15 and will be closed during this event.

Stargazers can camp at the park’s campground ($22 per night) or find a room in Benson.

Southeast Arizona has attractions in addition to the caverns.

“The city of Tombstone is about 30 minutes away from us,” DeMille said. “There’s also Ramsey Canyon, which is a nature preserve.”

Also within driving distance are Bisbee, with restaurants, galleries and a mine tour; Coronado National Memorial, with hiking trails and great scenery; and the Amerind Foundation, a museum with a top-notch collection of Native American art and artifacts near the Dragoon Mountains.

Details: Stargazing at Kartchner Caverns

When: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 11. Park hours are 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Where: Kartchner Caverns State Park. From central Phoenix, take Interstate 10 east past Tucson to Exit 302 at Benson. Take Arizona 90 about 9 miles south to the park entrance.

Admission: $6 per vehicle for stargazing. Cave tours, $18.95-$22.95.

Details: 520-586-4100, azstateparks.com/Parks/KACA.

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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 www.livepositively.com/#/Americasparks/vote and vote for Kartchner Caverns State Park.

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Which Arizona state parks will close?

Horse's patootie (read the article and you'll understand)

[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star] — The decision by lawmakers last month to take funds from the parks system means some will be closed later this year, the director of the agency said Thursday.  The only question that remains, Renee Bahl said, is which ones.  Bahl said the system, which already gets no direct taxpayer dollars, is being crippled because of the legislative action to take away a chunk of the funds they get from other sources.  That includes not only the fees paid by those who go to the parks but also special funds raised, such as assessments on registration of boats and off-road vehicles.  The bottom line, she said, is that her agency will have $7.5 million to spend rather than the $19 million it had planned for the fiscal year that began last July 1.

Bahl said she will make specific recommendations to the board on which parks to close in two weeks.  But she outlined the criteria her staff will use — criteria that are likely to be bad news for the smallest and least-used of the parks.  One of the most important, she said, is which make money or, at the very least, don’t lose a lot.  Bahl said that makes the most sense, as the cash from those parks might eventually be enough to reopen one or more of those shut down.

Topping the list of money producers is Kartchner Caverns, near Benson, followed by Slide Rock and Lake Havasu state parks.  Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, brings in about $193,000 more a year than it costs to operate.  But the parks system also is populated with sites that bleed red ink.  Topping that list is Tonto Natural Bridge near Payson, where costs exceed revenues by $541,000.  Red Rock State Park at Sedona operates on a $190,000-a-year loss, with six-digit deficits at Tubac Presidio, Picacho Peak, Homolovi Ruins, and the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff.

Bahl said, though, that the board will have to consider other factors when deciding which parks should be shut down.  “There are one-time costs like fencing, or if we needed to add a security system to a building or board something up,” she said.  “And we’re still going to need to keep an eye on it after that, checking it both for fire hazards and seeing if there’s any trespassing.”

Several board members, given the news, lashed out at lawmakers for taking the funds, even after being told at hearings last month that it will mean shutting parks.  “We have people in the Legislature who don’t believe state parks should exist,” Tracey Westerhausen complained.  She said the best thing that those who want the parks system could do is go out this year and elect different people.

Board Chairman Reese Woodling said the parks bring in more in tax dollars from visitors to communities than the cost. He said that message seems lost on lawmakers.  But board member Arlan Colton said it’s not that they don’t understand.  He said that, facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, “I don’t really think they give a horse’s patootie” about the effect of taking a couple of million dollars from the parks system.

Woodling said he and Bahl spoke with Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this week.  He said the governor, who signed the legislation authorizing taking the money, was sympathetic but offered no answers.  “I’m just sick to my stomach,” he said.  Brewer had no choice but to approve raiding the funds, said her spokesman, Paul Senseman.  “The Legislature has been unable to muster enough support for a deficit-reduction plan,” he said.

But Senseman said Brewer is unwilling, at least at this point, to endorse the recommendation of a task force she formed to create a “sustainable” park system: put an optional $15 surcharge on the registration fees for all vehicles in this state.  The fees would raise enough to keep the system operating, with motorists who paid the extra cash getting free admission all year to every state park.  “The governor believes it ought to be discussed in a very serious fashion,” Senseman said of the recommendation.  [Note: To read the full article, visit Which Arizona state parks will close?]