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].

Viewpoint: Arizona state leaders apparently don’t value parks, historic sites

[Source: William C. Thornton, Special to the Arizona Daily Star] — My wife and I recently had vastly different experiences at two state-operated parks.  The first was Judge Roy Bean State Park situated miles from nowhere in the tiny west Texas town of Langtry.  It was one of the nicest little museums we’ve ever seen and tells the story of the self-appointed “Law West of the Pecos” in a series of interactive dioramas that come alive before your eyes.

The original wood structure where Bean dispensed his own brand of justice on the Texas frontier sits behind the well-kept museum and visitor center.  When court was not in session, it was the center of community life, i.e. saloon, poker room, and pool hall.  A small botanical garden features native plants and picnic tables under shade trees.  Admission charge?  Zero.  I asked volunteers at the information desk if we couldn’t at least put a few bucks in a donation box.  They explained that the park is fully funded by the state of Texas and does not take donations.

A day-and-night opposite experience awaited us at McFarland State Park up the road in Florence.  The park honors Ernest McFarland, whose service as governor, U.S. senator, and Supreme Court justice makes him the only American to ever serve in all three branches of government.  He is perhaps best remembered as one of the authors of the G.I. Bill, which opened college doors to millions of veterans coming home from the battlefields of World War II.  The park’s centerpiece, Arizona’s first courthouse, dates from 1878 and combines traditional southwest adobe walls with an Anglo American wood-shingled pitched roof and wooden porch.

The years have taken their inevitable toll. Adobe walls are crumbling, rock foundations need shoring and wood porches need repair.  The building was closed and renovation began in October 2008.  We visited the museum and vowed to return when repairs to the courthouse are complete.  [Note: To read the full op-ed piece, click here.]