[Source: Joanna Dodder Nellans, Prescott Daily Courier]
After the Arizona Legislature swept $8.6 million from its State Parks to help prop up its ailing general fund, the State Parks Board decided in January it had no choice but to close 13 more of its 27 parks.
Four state parks had already closed in 2009, including Jerome State Historic Park, home to a mining museum in the 100-year-old Douglas mansion, during mansion renovations.
The Parks Board voted to close Red Rocks State Park near Sedona on June 3. It is a 286-acre nature preserve along Oak Creek. It was $202,000 in the red last year.
The board decided not to close parks that make money, including the 423-acre Dead Horse State Park along the Verde River in Cottonwood. It was $19,000 in the black last year.
The board also decided in January that the neighboring 480-acre Verde River Greenway State Natural Area would remain open, too, but State Parks officials decided to manage it “passively,” without patrols or improvements, said Renee Bahl, Arizona State Parks executive director.
The Parks Board gave at least one state park in Yavapai County, Fort Verde, a temporary reprieve.
By Feb. 22, two more parks had closed.
Throughout the remainder of 2010, local communities and counties including Yavapai negotiated with the state to keep some of the parks open and reopen others.
A last-ditch effort by Rep. Andy Tobin of Paulden to find more state money for the parks didn’t work. Toward the end of the Legislature’s 2010 session in April, Tobin tried to use money from the state’s “Growing Smarter” fund for the parks. Democrats killed the measure, saying it would have allowed use of voter-approved money for a purpose unrelated to the purchase of open space.
Later that month, the state’s iconic Arizona Highways Magazine launched an effort to help the parks by donating $5 of every new annual $24 subscription to the parks.
In all, the Arizona Legislature cut state park money from $28 million a few years ago to $18 million.
State Parks officials say their parks pump $266 million into rural Arizona economies by attracting 2.3 million visitors annually and producing 3,000 leisure jobs.
That includes $36.6 million for Yavapai County’s economy and 494 jobs here, according to a State Parks study.
By May, the Arizona State Parks board already had cut enough deals with local communities and supporters to keep all but five of the parks from being closed.
A Yavapai County coalition won the governor’s Innovation in Economic Development award in October for finding a way to keep the Fort Verde and Red Rock state parks open and to re-open Jerome’s. The county joined forces with local municipalities, historical societies and support groups.
All five of the state parks in Yavapai County are located in the Verde Valley and Sedona regions, so Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis of Cottonwood was instrumental in those parks negotiations.
Apache and Santa Cruz were the first counties to offer deals to keep their parks open. Apache offered money to keep Lyman Lake open, and Santa Cruz offered to operate the park that is home to the historic Tubac Presidio, for example.
Payson and other local supporters joined monetary forces to keep Tonto Natural Bridge from closing in September.
One Indian tribe, the Hopi, also got involved after the state closed Homolovi Ruins State Park, home to Hopi ancestors. The tribe, one of the few in Arizona without a casino, initially provided $175,000 for the park in October.
The state bought Homolovi in 1993 to stop looting of its ancient pueblos.
“Hopi became worried that once again, the pot hunters could start desecrating our ancient homelands,” said Cedric Kuwaninvaya, a Hopi council member.