More Arizonans likely to travel for Labor Day weekend than in ’09

[Source: Emily Gersema,]

More Arizonans than last year are expected to travel this holiday weekend, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport hopes to cash in on those who fly by offering a parking discount.

Even though fuel prices are slightly higher this year compared with last year, AAA Arizona predicts that 665,541 residents will drive 50 miles or more this Labor Day weekend, nearly 12 percent more people traveling by car than last year.

The company also projects that 40,561 people will fly this holiday – a nearly 6 percent increase from last year.

Michelle Donati of AAA Arizona said travelers will fly or drive an average of 845 miles round-trip – a longer trip than the national average of 635 miles.

And most travelers fleeing the state for the weekend are either going solo or in pairs, based on the IHS Global Insight survey for AAA Arizona.

Few Arizona travelers compared with those in other states turn Labor Day weekend into a family vacation.

“It’s not really average for this area, mostly because school has already started in Arizona,” Donati said.

Students in other states often begin school at the start of September, allowing families to plan their vacations late in the summer break.

Lake Havasu. Photo Credit: Arizona State Parks

But Arizona families who do travel are encouraged to consider a weekend at one of the 23 state parks, said Ellen Bilbrey, a spokeswoman for the Arizona State Parks.

Campsites near rivers or lakes will fill up quickly this weekend. At Lake Havasu, about 500 boats a day may launch, she said.

She said campers who begin their holiday early will nab the best spots. By Thursday, the $50-a-night cabins at Lyman Lake in eastern Arizona will have been booked, and dozens of campers will have pitched tents in campsites near Flagstaff, Payson and Prescott. Despite the projected increase in travelers this year, the AAA Arizona survey results indicate the economy’s health is a looming concern.

Arizonans are on a tighter budget than travelers from other states. AAA Arizona expects they’ll spend about $348 per trip, about 50 percent less than the national average of $697.

Phoenix Sky Harbor is offering a deal on parking to appeal to price-conscious travelers.

A parking coupon that travelers can download and print from the website ensures motorists who park at the airport during their holiday can come back and get a 40 percent discount on the $25 daily parking rate, lowering the cost to $15.

Republic reporter Salvador Rodriguez contributed to this article.

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Lyman Lake to close for winter on Sept. 7


Photo Credit: Karen Warnick – The Independent

APACHE COUNTY-Lyman Lake will again be closing down on Sept. 7, but this time there is good reason to believe that it will open again next summer. Rumors have circulated that the park will close down permanently after Labor Day, or be sold to a private company. Those rumors are not true, according to both the County and the State Parks Board.

“The county is willing to do whatever we can to keep Lyman Lake open,” said county manager Delwin Wengert. “It will take a group effort and we will work with the Parks Board and the communities of Apache County.”

During a phone interview with Assistant Parks Director Jay Weems and Public Information Officer Ellen Bonnin-Bilbrey on Aug. 24, it was made clear that the Parks Board does not want to permanently close Lyman or any of the State Parks and they are also committed to “looking at all possibilities” to keep Lyman Lake open. Even if it means operating it on a seasonal basis, which is not something that the Parks Board has done with any of the State Parks up to this time.

Lyman Lake is not actually totally owned by the State of Arizona. Lyman Water Company, the Arizona State Land Department and the Bureau of Land Management all own part of the property. No State Park has been ever sold, nor is it considered possible to do so under the state Constitution.

Weems said in the interview that if Apache County had not come forward with the $40,000 it raised, drastic measures would have been needed to shut it down.

Lyman Lake is considered a “high maintenance” park in that it is in a remote location and runs it own water and waste treatment facility, and its own law enforcement with the help of the Sheriff’s Department. Weems said they anticipated spending about $100,000 during this summer’s season. Of that amount, $75,000 is needed for staffing and the rest for utilities and supplies.

So far this season, the Park has brought in about $70,000 and with the money donated by the county, will break about even.

Weems said the Park made about $6,000 over the Memorial Day Weekend, which is $3,000 more than last year and $2,000 more than in 2008. During the month of June, the Park brought in $18,000, which is about $2,000 less than in both 2008 and 2009. July brought in $29,000, the same as in 2008 and $6,000 more than 2009. August is projected to be the same as both years at around $14,000.

Weems also stated that the arrangement with the County is unique, but has been done with other communities.

PIO officer Bilbrey said that the economic impact to the County from visitors to the area is over $2.5 million directly and over 35 jobs are provided by the impact. Bilbrey has been working vigorously promoting Arizona State Parks to the rest of the world and states that more visitors are needed to help the rural communities and their parks.

The Parks Board has budgeted money to leave one law enforcement officer at the Park over the winter to protect the park and its artifacts. Negotiations will start soon with the County and possibly a private company to operate it next year. Many people thought that Lyman was closed this summer. In fact, Bilbrey said that many people thought all of Arizona’s Parks were closed and there needs to be a concerted publicity effort to get the word out which will bring in more visitors.

Lyman Lake will be open through the Labor Day weekend.

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