Arizona To Close Half its State Parks
By Lili DeBarbieri | Online Only | Jan. 22, 2010
On Dec. 23, 2009, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed legislature reducing the state parks budget by $8.6 million. In the face of these cuts, last week the Arizona State Parks Board voted to close 13 of its 27 state parks by June.
"It's a seismic change to our department," says Renée Bahl, executive director of the Arizona State Parks Board. "Basically, we'll have zero dollars at the end of this year."
By the end of March, seven of Arizona's eight state historic parks will be shuttered, including the 1882 Tombstone Courthouse, the Yuma Territorial Prison, and the 1904 Arts and Crafts Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff. In fact, the only historic park that will remain open to visitors will be the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, spared thanks to support from the city of Yuma.
"We can only afford to operate those parks that either make money or have a low operating cost," Bahl says. "What this means is that our buildings—historic and otherwise—will suffer, and so will the appreciation of our history. It will be lost because we won't be able to pass it on."
Rally for Arizona Parks
The Arizona Heritage Alliance is organizing a rally on Feb. 1 at the state capitol in Phoenix. Details at www.azheritage.org
The Arizona State Parks agency was created in 1957 to drive leisure business to rural economies. The 2.3 million tourists who visit Arizona's parks each year generated nearly $23 million in state and local government taxes in 2007, according to a February 2009 study by Northern Arizona University. They bring in $266 million to local economies, according to the State Parks Board. Bahl predicts that negative impacts on local communities will be severe. "Parks in any state bring in money to the local economies," she says. "We understand it's a recession, but we are part of the solution."
What's the solution for Arizona's state park system? Perhaps a tax on vehicle registrations, says Sandy Bahr, Grand Canyon Chapter Director of the Sierra Club. "We need the legislature to pass the vehicle license-fee to help fund parks and to reverse the cuts," she said in an e-mail. In the end, it is the "smaller historic parks are the ones that will suffer the most, as they do not generate as much money."
Arizona isn't alone; last year California shuttered state parks, along with Illinois, Pennsylvania, and other states in economic crisis. Closing state parks won't solve any problems in the long run, says Anthony Veerkamp, director of programs at the National Trust's Western Office in San Francisco. "The National Trust for Historic Preservation recognizes that the state of Arizona is facing a severe fiscal crisis," Veerkamp says. "We believe, however, that eviscerating state parks is shortsighted at best and threatens lasting harm to Arizona well beyond the current economic downturn."
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