27 Arizona State Parks close at Midnight, July 1 due to budget impasse

(Phoenix, AZ — June 30, 2009, updated at 7 pm) – The Arizona State Parks department asked campers to leave 13 State Parks’ campgrounds at 4 p.m. today in order to close down the parks before the midnight deadline for closing all Arizona State Parks. Parks will be closed and not reopen until the department has operating authority.

In order to reduce the economic impact for two rural communities, the Arizona State Parks department staff have signed special use applications with the City of Show Low and the City of Lake Havasu. These agreements would allow each City to operate, monitor, maintain and control the parks.  Show Low’s Fool Hollow Lake State Recreation Area and Lake Havasu State Park (day use only, no camping) will operate under these special use agreements through July 5th or will end when the State Parks’ budget is authorized. Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is also open.

These permits would include the legal and safe parking of all visitors, use and function of the launch ramps, access and maintenance of the restroom facilities, trash pickup, emergency medical response and public safety.  The agreements begin at midnight on June 30 until July 5th.

If there is no operating budget by July 1, 2009 most parks will be closed.  For days the agency is closed, all reservations for Camping Cabins, Yurts, and campsites will be cancelled, and can be rescheduled or refunded.  For days the agency is closed, all Cave Tours at Kartchner Caverns State Park will be cancelled, and can be rescheduled or refunded.

For more information about the 30 State Parks, other hiking opportunities such as hiking all the 550 State Trails, off-highway vehicle trails and other outdoor recreational and cultural opportunities in Arizona, see the website at the Arizona State Parks department at www.AZStateParks.com or call (602) 542-4174.

Could rift over Arizona budget lead to shutdown of state services?

More closure signs could go up if state budget crisis isn't resolved (Photo: Tom Brossart, Payson Roundup)

[Source: Casey Newton and Mary Jo Pitzl, Arizona Republic] — Driver’s licenses will be unavailable.  Road construction will grind to a halt.  Child abuse will not be investigated… [All 28 state parks would likely close indefinitely.] Those are some of the scenarios state agencies are preparing for should state leaders fail to agree on a budget by July 1.

The nearly total shutdown of state government, a possibility raised last week by Gov. Jan Brewer, has grown more likely this week as Republican leaders in the Legislature refuse to send Brewer the budget package they approved June 4…. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Viewpoint: Cynical budget plan could close more Arizona state parks

[Source: Doug Frerichs, Arizona State Parks Foundation] — If state legislators stick to their latest budget plans, hundreds of thousands of state parks visitors are likely to have far fewer parks to visit next year, while recession-reeling Arizona communities could suffer major losses in parks tourism and money. At issue are House and Senate Budget Bills that would strip fee-generated revenues from Arizona State Parks, forcing the cash-strapped agency to close more parks or expend funds set aside by voters specifically for parks enhancements and community grants.  In addition to parks already shut because of legislative raids on State Parks earlier this year, the bill could force closure of such scenic sites as Red Rock State Park near Sedona, Oracle State Park north of Tucson, Yuma Quartermaster Depot, Tubac Presidio, and other prized locations.  Even Kartchner Caverns, the jewel of the state system, stands at risk.

In a cynical move, Senate leaders would confiscate State Parks fee-generated income, leaving the agency to rob the Arizona Heritage Fund to sustain a skeleton parks system.  The Heritage Fund, approved by voters in 1990, sets aside $10 million annually from the State Lottery for grants to finance community parks, historic preservation, and conservation projects.  Beyond cynicism, the latest budget schemes would strip away a portion of donations made to benefit state parks by private donors acting in good faith.

To her credit, Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed a more honest, pragmatic approach that would let State Parks keep its fee monies and not subvert purposes of the Heritage Fund.  The governor also recognizes that State Parks — in addition to its superb recreational, historic and natural values — is an economic engine that regularly draws more than 2 million visitors a year and pumps $250 million in tourism spending into local economies.  The governor also has appointed a Sustainable State Parks Task Force to recommend new ways of funding and maintaining such sites as Slide Rock, Riordan Mansion, Dead Horse Ranch, Lake Havasu and Kartchner Caverns state parks — places that annually draw huge numbers for fishing, boating, birding, hiking, camping, and pure enjoyment of our state’s great places.

State Parks is not an agency to be slashed when Arizona communities need tourism dollars.  Despite this, the latest budget measures would repeat mistakes made earlier this year when lawmakers lopped the State Parks’ budget by $34.6 million, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in parks staffing, closure of three parks and reduced operations at six more.  And all this on top of the fact that State Parks has had no general fund or capital budget increases for a decade.

Our state parks were bought and built by Arizonans over the course of half a century.  They were enhanced and improved with major efforts of volunteers. They have provided two, and now three generations with experiences and memories of some of Arizona’s best places.  Raiding the agency, stripping it of its small state general fund support, and forcing the State Parks Board to cannibalize the Heritage Fund are sure fire ways for legislators to destroy what’s good in government, hurt local economies, and leave the future with less.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Doug Frerichs is a board member and past president of the Arizona State Parks Foundation, a private, non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for and supporting Arizona’s state parks system. He lives in Scottsdale.

Yuma history under Arizona governor’s budget ax

[Source: Stephanie Wilken, Yuma Sun] — Cuts in Gov. Jan Brewer’s state budget could close the Sanguinetti House Museum in Yuma and three other history museums across the state, cutting the state’s past out of millions of Arizonans’ lives. Brewer’s proposed state budget would cut $473,000 in funding for the Arizona Historical Society.  The society operates four museums around the state and houses the state’s historical archives, totalling about 1 million artifacts — some predating statehood.  The proposed cuts would reduce the funding by 20 percent a year for the next five years, which means state support for the society would end completely in 2015.

Mark Haynes, president of the Rio Colorado Chapter, the Yuma chapter of the society, said he is dismayed that the governor would propose anything like that.   But Paul Senseman, spokesman with the governor’s office, said in a time when the state is facing an estimated $3 billion deficit, there are proposed cuts across the board — even in education and social services.

Haynes said the cuts would have a “pretty big impact,” and without the Sanguinetti House, Yumans will have no place to see their history, research the past, including the area’s history of mining and agriculture.  “Once it’s lost, it’s very hard to go back and recapture what you’ve lost,” he said.

The Sanguinetti House is one of the oldest adobe structures in the state, Haynes said.  And if the museum closes, it could affect its three employees — two full-time and one part-time — along with about 20 volunteers.  Haynes said the possibility of local, private funding could help provide minimum maintenance to sustain the facilities, but there is no firm answer if that could happen.  He said this proposed cut is the latest round, with cuts from the Legislature dating back to 2001, which eliminated various positions and aspects of the society’s functions. “This is just the last nail in the coffin, so to speak,” he said.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]