State park closures take toll on Arizona towns

[Source: Parker Leavitt, Arizona Republic] — The budget-cut-induced closure of two popular state parks is taking an economic toll on businesses in Jerome and Payson.  Jerome State Historic Park and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park were closed Feb. 26 after the state Legislature cut more than $34 million in park funds to help fill budget gaps.

The park in Jerome remains shuttered.  Tonto Natural Bridge has reopened, but only on weekends. Consequently, hotel bookings have slowed, and shops and restaurants see fewer customers, while a recent Northern Arizona University study suggests the closures could cost the regions several million dollars in annual park-driven revenues.  “There is no question that people up here feel the loss,” Jerome Chamber of Commerce President Tom Pitts said.  “There’s a big hole in the experience here.”

Jerome, Arizona’s smallest incorporated town, is home to an eclectic mix of art galleries, wineries and historic sites.  The state park was a major draw for the community’s tourism industry, helping to lure more than 60,000 visitors in 2008.  “People make traveling decisions based on what they’re going to do when they get here,” said Anne Conlin, owner of the Connor Hotel in Jerome.  “(Guests now) book maybe a one-night stay instead of a two-night stay. Or they just don’t come at all.”

The park includes the historic Douglas Mansion, built in 1916, antique mining attractions and a picnic area with views of the region’s mountains.  [Note: To read the full article, click here]