September 10, 2011; Source: Arizona Republic | Arizona’s shimmering sun, sweeping sunsets and sacred sites of Sedona draw millions of tourists to its state parks and historic sites. Community leaders recognize that parks are economic drivers in Arizona, having a $266.4 million dollar impact in fiscal 2007. When the 2009 state legislature slashed the state park budget, civic-minded individuals knew it was up to them throw a “financial lifeline” to these state treasures. Today 26 of the 27 state parks are open, but their long-range future remains in question.
Fourteen Arizona parks are remaining open thanks to partnerships developed by state agencies, nonprofits, and local communities. For example, when civic leaders of Payson and Star Valley learned that neighboring Tonto Natural Bridge State Park was scheduled to shut down, they knew they had to act fast in order to preserve the park’s $3.56-million economic impact on the local economy. Despite the fact that both communities faced their own financial challenges, they teamed up with the Friends of the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park to cover the park’s operating shortfall by holding fundraising events and engaging citizens in saving the park. Today, the park is expected to be in the black by fiscal 2012.
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Elsewhere, a fundraiser for the Yuma Territorial Prison Museum brought in over $70,000 kept the site open while it gathered more support. Red Rock State Park in Sedona is being aided by the Benefactors of Red Rock State Park. Nonprofits are increasingly part of a larger network of agencies, cities, and state parks that have drafted new written agreements regarding park funding and operations. Park managers have shortened hours, raised fees, and closed parks during low seasons. Today, 13 of the 14 state parks with these agreements are operating in the black. Statewide, nonprofit and civic leaders have raised more than $820,000 to keep the parks going.
Critics warn that this is just a “Band-Aid” approach. Several of these agreements expire in a year and future funding is uncertain. Cities and counties continue to be strapped for money. The good news is that the parks are open and continue to generate money for local economies. But how long will visitors be able to enjoy these Arizona treasures? Right now, no one has an answer.—Nancy Knoche