Arizona parks rescued by communities and non-profits

[Source; Megan Neighbor, The Arizona Republic] –  In the depths of the recession, state budget cuts made it seem almost certain that the gates to manyArizonaparks would remain padlocked. But local communities and non-profit organizations have banded together to keep 14 of the state’s most financially vulnerable parks open by providing more than $820,000 to the cash-strapped Arizona State Parks agency.

For example, the Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and the towns of Payson and StarValleyare helping provide $35,000 in funding to the namesake park inGilaCounty. Through a contract with Santa Cruz County, the Tubac Historical Society is helping keepTubacPresidioStateHistoricPark’s doors open by providing both funding and operational support.RedRockState Parkin Sedona is being aided byYavapai Countyand the Benefactors of Red Rock State Park. All but one of the state’s other 13 parks remain open, albeit seasonally in some cases, because they take in enough revenue to stay in the black and fund their own operations.

Local authorities and non-profits say they decided to cast a financial lifeline to the more vulnerable parks because they recognize their value – their rich history, intense beauty and, perhaps most importantly, their economic impact. Today, less than two years after major closures seemed certain, 26 of Arizona’s 27 parks are open, although many have abbreviated schedules [to read the full article click here].

Payson’s Tonto state park aid cited in USA Today article

[Source: Emily Bazer, USA Today] — In communities where budget cuts have shuttered public pools, closed parks and canceled Fourth of July fireworks, some residents and businesses are giving time and money to save their favorite summer activities…

Businesses, residents and the town of Payson, Ariz., are giving time and money to keep nearby Tonto Natural Bridge State Park open some weekends.  Each year, more than 80,000 people visit the park and spend as much as $3 million in the area, according to Arizona State Parks. The state agency shut it down in February to help close a budget gap, said assistant parks director Jay Ream. Businesses and the city have pledged to pay as much as $5,000 to reopen the park on weekends, from Memorial Day through at least June.  Residents will volunteer at the park to reduce the need for paid staff, said Mayor Kenny Evans.  “We’re seeing a renaissance of people taking personal responsibility for the communities they love,” he said. “I really see it as a silver lining.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Payson contributes funds to open Tonto Bridge park

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — A state park that closed in February will reopen later this month, thanks to funding from an unexpected source.   Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, which closed as part of cost-saving measures for the troubled state parks system, received about $5,000 from the city of Payson to allow it to reopen for at least five weekends. Payson will also contribute about 100 volunteers to help staff the park, Mayor Ken Evans said.

Evans said his cash-strapped city struggled with the decision of whether to donate money to the parks system.  Ultimately, fears of lost revenue from tourism led the city to volunteer money and staff.  More than 87,000 people visited Tonto during fiscal 2008.  The park will open for Memorial Day from May 22 through 25, and then reopen June 6 and 7, 13 and 14, 20 and 21, and 27 and 28.

The parks system closed McFarland and Jerome State Historic parks earlier this year, after lawmakers cut its budget by more than $36 million in the past year.  To reopen Tonto, officials will charge the salaries of two seasonal rangers to Payson.  The rangers make $11 an hour, parks operations chief Janet Hawks said in a statement.  In February, parks officials said closing the park would allow for repairs at Tonto’s lodge.  Spokeswoman Ellen Bilbrey said Tuesday that work has not yet begun on the lodge, and that visitors will not be able to use it when the park reopens.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]