Roper Lake safe for now

[Source: Diane Saunders, Eastern Arizonan Courier]

Roper Lake State Park will likely stay open, but its future could lie in the hands of a private company.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer wants to maintain state park funding at its current level, according to the state’s executive budget summary, but the State Senate is calling for a sweep of $2.090 million from the State Parks Enhancement Fund and privatization of “some or all state parks.”

The State Parks Enhancement fund is money from gate receipts, according to Cristie Statler, executive director of the Arizona State Parks Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the parks.

Last year, the Legislature swept money from the Arizona Heritage Fund — a funding source for state parks. That left the Enhancement Fund to pay for repairs or improvements.

“We’ve never been more reliant on the Enhancement Fund than now,” Statler said in a phone interview Thursday. This fund has about $10 million.

She added that the State Senate, House of Representatives and Brewer must agree to transferring the state park money to the state’s general fund.

A “fact sheet” for Senate Bill 1624 shows the State Parks Board must allow a private contractor to operate at least one park that was profitable and one that was not profitable last year. The board must award contracts by Feb. 1, 2012.

Meanwhile, District 5 Senator Sylvia Allen believes “Roper Lake will survive.” She also believes privatization is a good option.

Allen said Friday that negotiations continue for funding the state parks, including Roper Lake.

Viewpoint: Don’t tolerate the closing of state parks

[Source: Roxanne Cary Cheney, Eastern Arizona Courier, 3-17-2010] — I want to commend Diane Saunders for her March 7 article about the potential closure of Roper Lake.  However, I need to clarify some of the data.  Roper Lake is budgeted for four full-time employees.  If Roper Lake closes, it will cost Graham County about $5 million in lost revenue and about 70-80 jobs.  That loss cannot be tolerated!  Do the legislators and governor hope to make a ghost town out of our fair community?

Additionally, the governor has now stolen the Heritage Funds and directed them toward her bottomless pit (of a) mismanaged budget.  The Arizona State Parks Board Heritage Fund was established in November 1990 by voter initiative and provides up to $10 million annually to Arizona State Parks from Arizona Lottery proceeds (A.R.S. §41-503).  Another $10 million annually goes to the Department of Game and Fish to conserve natural resources and protect endangered species.  This portends the ultimate lifeline for State Parks.  Do our state administrators have any answers for the one lucrative revenue source they are killing?  Yes, they will let private companies manage a few of the parks, as it works so well in California State Parks.  This is NOT true.  Californians can pay up to $70 for the luxury of going to a mismanaged and dirty state park that is now managed through a concessionaries contract.  Do not let this happen. Flood your legislators with letters or phone calls.

Please call your legislators today and let them know you will not tolerate the elimination of the state parks as we know them today.  If you would like to be a part of the ongoing fight to save our state parks, please join the Friends for Roper Lake.  You can contact me at 775-230-2225 or

Havens of nature, Arizona’s history fall to cuts

[Source: Arizona Daily Star, Doug Kreutz, 1-24-2010] — Wildflower lovers might want to plan a farewell visit to Picacho Peak State Park this spring — even if it’s not a banner year for blooms.  The park, a mecca for fans of wildflower color, is scheduled to close June 3 — and officials don’t know.  “Voting to close these parks was one of the hardest moments of my life,” said Reese Woodling, a Tucson resident and chairman of the Arizona State Parks Board.  “I love Arizona and I love our parks.  To see this happening just makes me sick to my stomach.”  When, or if, it will reopen.

Picacho Peak, about 40 miles northwest of Tucson, is one of 13 state parks slated for closure in a phased sequence from Feb. 22 to June 3.  Other Southern Arizona parks closing their gates are Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Roper Lake State Park, and Lost Dutchman State Park.  The reason: a budget shortfall of $8.6 million.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Board votes to close 21 of 30 Arizona state parks by June

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — The Arizona State Parks Board voted unanimously Friday to begin shuttering state parks, a move that will leave the parks system with fewer than one third of its properties open by June 3.  In an emotional public meeting that lasted nearly six hours, parks-board members heard from dozens of residents from across the state, pleading to keep the parks open despite steep budget cuts.

Local elected officials warned of dire economic consequences to their towns.  Sheriff’s deputies said they will no longer be able to patrol some lakes.  Park volunteers offered to run the parks for free.  But board members said they had no choice but to close 21 of 30 parks and recreation areas following last month’s special session of the Legislature, in which $8.6 million was cut from their budget.  That was on top of $34 million in cuts in the previous year.  “Unfortunately, we don’t have options,” said Walter Armer, a member of the board.

Among the most popular parks slated for closure are Roper Lake, which drew 86,000 visitors in 2008, and Picacho Peak, which drew more than 98,000.  The parks that will remain open generate revenue for the system, such as Slide Rock and Kartchner Caverns.  The parks system records more than 2.2 million total visits a year, according to the Arizona State Parks Department.  Armer added that the board would work to reopen the parks as soon as it had the funds to do so.

Several proposals are making the rounds in the Legislature, including one that would add a roughly $9 fee to the cost of registering a vehicle.  The money would pay for park operations, and Arizonans would then be able to get into any state park without paying an additional fee.  The proposal with the most support at the moment would refer the question of whether to impose that fee to voters, said Jay Ziemann, the department’s legislative liaison.

Wittmann resident Chrissy Kondrat-Smith took her daughter, Sydney, to every state park one recent summer.  The 4,000-mile journey inspired Sydney to become a junior park ranger at Red Rock State Park, which is slated to close.  Sydney, 8, recorded a video letter to Santa Claus over the holidays, asking him to keep the parks open.  Sydney began crying when she learned the parks would close.  She couldn’t understand why the parks can’t stay open with volunteer labor, her mother said.

Others expressed concern about what will happen to the parks once staff members aren’t around to protect them. Although the parks board does intend the closed parks to be patrolled, it remains unclear how many staffers will be available.

Charles Adams, a professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, warned that closed parks would become magnets for vandals and thieves.  Adams expressed particular concern for the Homolovi Ruins, an archaeological treasure that was brought into the parks system in part to protect it from theft.  “There is great concern in the archaeological community as some of these close,” Adams told the board.  “They are extremely vulnerable.”

As the meeting concluded, members of the parks staff received word that Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget proposal released Friday would make further reductions to the parks budget, which could make Arizona the first state in the nation to close its entire parks system.  “We have a huge collective fight on our hands,” said Arlan Colton, a member of the board.  “And that’s our fight for survival.”  [Note: To read the full article, visit Board votes to close 21 of 30 Arizona state parks by June.]