Arizona’s state parks face “devastating” cuts

State budget cuts may cause Tonto Natural Bridge officials to postpone fixing leaky roof and restoring historic lodge. (Roundup photo file)

[Source: Pete Aleshire, Payson Roundup] — Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has put out an urgent plea for volunteer workers after learning it must lay off half its staff to cope with “devastating” legislative budget cuts.  Staggered by the a mid-year $5-million budget cut approved by lawmakers over the weekend, the Arizona State Parks Board this week held an emergency meeting to find alternatives to closing eight of the state’s 27 parks.  “We do not have enough money to run the parks until June,” said assistant director Jay Ziemann.  “The parks system is rapidly falling apart.”

The legislature has now not only cut general fund contributions to the park to a fraction of the operating cost, but has swept some $32 million from various funds earmarked by law for various park and recreation purposes. 

Tonto Natural Bridge features a 183-foot-high arch of travertine over a 150-foot-long tunnel dissolved in a wall of rock.  The park remains one of the best-known attractions in Rim Country, where towns are struggling to maintain tourism in the face of the downturn.  The cuts have killed the staff’s hopes for money to fix a leaky roof and restore the historic lodge, which park managers had hoped to contract for this spring.  Now, the park will need more volunteers just to maintain minimal operations.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Arizona’s parks are too valuable to let fall apart (Arizona Republic editorial)

[Source: Kathleen Ingley, Arizona Republic] — If you’ve slipped and bumped down the shoot of water at Slide Rock near Sedona.  If you’ve watched troops dressed in Civil War uniforms re-create the skirmish at Picacho Peak.  If you’ve climbed around Tonto Natural Bridge north of Payson.  If you’ve seen the glistening formations at Kartchner Caverns.  Then you’ve got a reason to celebrate.

Happy birthday, state parks!  Exactly 50 years ago today, Gov. Ernest McFarland signed legislation creating the framework for the parks system.  You’ve also got a lot of reasons to feel outraged.  Our parks are suffering from a shameful lack of maintenance and capital spending.  The budget was gutted five years ago, when the state was in a financial crunch, and funding is just being restored, leaving a huge backlog of repairs.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Officials: State parks need $43 million in repairs, upgrades

Bartlett Cabin, a landmark at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park thought to have been built in the 1920s, once served as a vacation home for Marge and Augustus Bartlett. Arizona State Parks, which purchased the land containing the natural bridge, would like to renovate the cabin.  Photo Tucson Citizen.[Source: Mike Meyer, Cronkite News Service] — The lodge at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park used to serve as an idyllic resort for vacationers.  Now the guest rooms stand vacant. Paint has peeled away from the ceiling and walls, revealing gaping holes in the drywall.  Built in 1927 by the land’s original homesteaders, the Goodfellow family, the lodge was one of the first guest ranches in the area and operated as a privately owned resort until the state purchased the land in October 1990.

Since then, the lodge, which is now used for meetings, has been hard-hit by water damage.  The roof shingles have deteriorated and support beams in the attic have been eaten away by leaking water.  The lodge doesn’t meet fire codes and needs repairs to its fire suppression system, park manager John Boeck said.  Whether or not the lodge is repaired depends in large part on the state Legislature, which is considering the State Parks Board budget.  “Sometimes they look at state parks as a nicety, not a necessity,” Boeck said.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]