Monday, March 29, 2010

Towns in Arizona, only state to close a state park so far, look for donations to keep others open

Earlier this month we reported the growing trend of states closing or severely trimming budgets at state parks to fill holes in state budgets. Arizona appears to be the leading state in that trend, but has recently seen an uptick in private donations to keep some of its parks open, Nicole Santa Cruz of the Los Angeles Times reports.Since 2007, the Legislature has reduced park funding by almost 80 percent, closed five of the state's 30 parks and scheduled six more for closure by June. One park, Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, was temporarily spared when retired airline captain Taylor Sanford Jr. wrote a check for $8,000, the estimated cost of keeping the park open for one month.

While 400 state parks across the country have been scheduled for closure in the last year, Arizona is the only state to actually close any so far. The closures have been a "devastating blow for some rural areas," Santa Cruz writes. Residents of Apache Junction, which city's economic development director describes as "hiking, horses and Harleys," is fighting to keep Lost Duntchman open but faces a $12,000 gap between the money currently raised and the $25,000 needed to keep the park open during the quiet summer months.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans says partnerships like the one his community forged between individuals, corporations and the Tonto Apache tribe to keep Tonto Natural Bridge State Park open "will become more common as states continue to wrestle with budget shortfalls," Santa Cruz writes, and he said the plan "spells a real sea change in terms of how certain public functions will have to be funded." Bob Burnside, mayor of Camp Verde, which is fighting to keep Fort Verde State Historic Park open, explained that these parks are part of the town's fabric: "Can you imagine being in New York and telling your kids you're going to take them out West to see the cowboys and Indians, and they're not there?" (Read more)

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