Officials to consider state park closures

Phoenix, AZ – The state Parks Board will decide today whether to shutter at
least five -- and possibly eight -- parks.

Ken Travous said the cuts made this past weekend by lawmakers
leave the agency he directs $2.3 million short of what it needs
to keep all 27 parks open. He's proposing to close parks that are
the most expensive to run. Some are very costly like McFarland
State Historic Park in Florence which actually consists of an old
courthouse, archives and museum.

Travous said the small number of
visitors -- fewer than 5,000 a year -- coupled with annual
operating costs of more than $195,000 makes it far too expensive
to keep open. Also set for closure would be Oracle State Park,
the Yuma Quartermaster Depot, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
and Homolovi Ruins State Park near Winslow which all lose at
least $14 on a per-visitor basis.

And Travous said unless
something changes, three other parks are likely to go: Fort Verde
near Camp Verde, the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff and Lyman Lake
State Park near St. Johns. Travous said he considered -- and
rejected -- higher fees.

(It would have some, a minimal impact over the course of a full
year. But we're talking five months. And there's an elasticity of
demand that's involved here also. The more you raise your fees,
the less people are going to come.)

Senate Majority Whip Pam Gorman questioned whether it might make
sense simply to privatize the park system. But Travous told her
there's a problem with that.

(Private people only want to take the parks that are making money
now, thank you. And we've been doing a good job of making money
with those parks. So that really just exacerbates the problem.
And, more concern, puts our natural resources in charge of
private holdings which don't have the conservation always at
heart as we do.)

While lawmakers expressed concern Monday, none suggested that the
Legislature, having just cut health care and education to deal
with a $1.6 billion deficit, now provide more money for parks.
And Gorman also said it may be necessary to rethink the entire
concept of what Arizona wants in a state park system. She noted
that Fort Verde had fewer than 16,000 visitors last year, or an
average of fewer than 44 a day. And the Homolovi Ruins managed
fewer than 42 people daily.

(How many parks do you need that only serve a few thousand people
the entire year? Are the state taxpayers at this point basically
subsidizing a handful of families that go there regularly?)

For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.