Parks are in trouble everywhere in this country, not just in Arizona.
THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM
The national park system has faced cuts in operating costs for at least a
decade. The number of park employees has decreased despite increasing numbers
of visitors and buildings are in increasing disrepair.
Some of the most heavily
used parks face the biggest problems, including Yellowstone, the Smokies, and
the Blue Ridge Parkway. The latter two are unusual in that they have no
entrance fees. They are truly available to everyone.
Redbuds bloom along the Blue Ridge
Parkway east of Roanoke, VA. (April, 2007)
I do not know if any
national parks are in jeopardy of being closed. It's a wonder entrance fees and
the cost of the various annual
passes haven't increased significantly in
We're keeping our fingers crossed that the inexpensive "America the Beautiful"
Senior Pass (formerly called the Golden Age Pass) that is available to U.S.
citizens and permanent residents over age 62 remains at a measly $10 for a
lifetime until Jim turns 62 in August. It is good at all national parks and
federal recreational lands. The cost for folks under 62 is $80 per year,
making the Senior Pass quite a bargain in comparison!
We'd be willing to pay more than $10 for it, however, in an effort to keep
the parks open and operating well.
Forest Service campground with no hookups and a low fee
at Clear Creek Reservoir south of Leadville, CO
There was a proposal this winter to increase fees for folks with
Senior passes from 10% to 50% at U.S. Forest Service campgrounds operated by
private contractors but the public uproar was so intense the Feds backed off.
That's an example of how public opinion can make a difference.
Forest Service campgrounds are usually inexpensive to begin with, we could
live with the proposed discount rate of 10% instead of 50% -- but don't tell
the Forest Service I said that!
HOW ARE STATES COPING?
At the state level, just about every state's parks are
in some degree of trouble in this depressed economy. There simply is less
revenue coming into state coffers.
Most of the examples I'll use in
this series are from Arizona since that state proposes to close the highest
percentage of its parks of any of the fifty states -- and I've read more
articles about Arizona than the others. I don't mean to pick on Arizona.
The states with the biggest deficits during this recession are not the only
considering park closures, although California, Arizona, and Nevada, three of
the four states in the worst economic distress (Florida is the fourth) were the
first states to announce they intend to start closing state parks. California
and Arizona have multi-billion dollar deficits. The Nevada Legislature
has an estimated $900 million budget gap.
View of Marlette Lake in the Lake Tahoe
Nevada State Park. Lake Tahoe is in the background. (July, 2009)
read about proposed closures in Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia. I'm
sure other states face the same dilemma.
Closing parks is drastic enough, even if a state intends to re-open them in
the future. What happens to them meanwhile? Even more drastic are plans to lease or sell park lands to private
interests. What control, if any, will there be over how the land is developed?
Mind you, I'm a firm believer in private enterprise and minimal government
interference, but that "solution" concerns me.
I found this ironic twist in the March 6, 2010
In 2006, Donald
Trump donated 436 acres of parkland in Yorktown to New York State Parks. Now,
the state wants to close Donald Trump State Park to save $2,500 a year. Trump
says if they close it he wants the land back. The state says "nope," it will
simply remain parkland. Trump will explore "legal options."
I'm curious to see how that turns out!
I'm also amazed that it costs only $2,500 a year to run this park. Maybe
that's a typo? If that's the real number, it seems like it'd be more cost
effective for Trump to pay the $2,500 than to hire an attorney!
Herds of buffalo are the big draw at Custer SP in South
which has no
plans to close any of its state parks. (April, 2009)
Other solutions states can use that
are less drastic than complete closures or selling off public lands include
obvious measures like becoming more streamlined and efficient --
reducing waste, reducing certain services, closing parks on one or more
weekdays, cutting some staff, and relying more on volunteers.
One of the
reasons Texas State Parks are in comparatively good shape during the recession
is their extensive use of volunteers, which I'll talk about more in subsequent
Although two-thirds of Arizona's state parks were originally slated to be
closed this year, at least five of them are now operating five days a week
instead of seven in an effort to keep them open and still cut costs:
Fort Verde, Riordin Mansion, Tombstone Courthouse, Tonto Natural Bridge, and
Tubac Presidio. These parks are currently closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Other states are doing about the same thing or at least considering it.
Sign of the times: sign at Lyman Lake SP in Arizona, one
state parks already closed. Photo from the state park
One of the best solutions
states should consider is to encourage/allow local communities to help save the
state parks and historic sites that are closest to them. After all, it affects
their economies as much as or more than the overall state budget.
announcement of closures in January, the towns/cities of Fort Verde, Tombstone,
Yuma, and Payson have proposed various financial management agreements that
will help keep Fort Verde, Tombstone Courthouse, Yuma Territorial Prison, and
Tonto Natural Bridge parks open for several months to three years.
County has budgeted $30,000 per year for three years in county
park money to keep the Fort Verde, Red Rock,
and Jerome state sites open. The Arizona
Historical Society and the State Game and Fish Department are also scrambling to
prevent closures of Riordin Mansion and Roper Lake, respectively, later this
I think it's great that these entities are coming to the rescue of the
parks in their back yards. They know they have a lot to lose if they are
Two Arizona national monuments, Montezuma's Castle (L) and
Tuzigoot (R), are cultural treasures
that will remain open, unlike some of Arizona's state
historical sites. (January, 2009)
While these sites may be rescued at least temporarily from
total closure by reducing the number of days they are open or the fund-raising
efforts of their local communities and other organizations, at least five of Arizona's twenty-six state parks
and historical sites have either been shuttered already (as of March) or are
still slated to be
closed in phases during the current fiscal year. According to the Arizona State Parks
"ongoing discussions are being held to find financial solutions" for several
other parks and historical sites slated for closure.
Only nine Arizona state parks and historical sites are not currently on the
chopping block. If you want to visit any of them, check the website for the
current status to be sure they are still open.
A family is silhouetted against
Patagonia Lake at sunset. (January, 2010)
Each time we've visited Arizona we have camped in the regional park system
around Phoenix. This was our first year to visit one of the state parks. We are
glad to know that Patagonia Lake State Park, which we enjoyed at the beginning
of January, is not on the list of parks to be closed.
Although we were close to Tombstone, we didn't take the time to see the
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. We hope the state accepts the town's
proposal to manage the park for the next three years so we can visit it on a
future trip to Arizona.
I'm glad the ten Maricopa County Regional Parks were still open in
the Phoenix area when we visited in December before Run to the Future. We
camping there, especially at McDowell Mountain Park, site of the Javelina
Pemberton 50K trail runs. Prices have increased in an attempt to make them
self-supporting -- but at least they were still open. We hope
open. Several of the ten regional parks like McDowell, Estrella,
and White Tank have lots of great trails and most of them have campgrounds. We
highly recommend visiting them. Maricopa County is doing something right,
despite the horrible local economy.
Teddy Bear Cholla along one of the trails
at McDowell Mountain Regional Park
near Phoenix, AZ (January, 2008)
I mentioned higher fees . . . that's another obvious way to keep
state parks open. Almost every state, including Arizona and Texas, has raised or intends to raise entry,
facility use, and other fees to
help make their parks more sustainable. Arizona's prices are higher than
Texas's, however. I admit that was one reason we returned to Texas in
January instead of basking in the desert sunshine longer.
Then there are the more creative solutions some states have found to close their
park budget gaps in lieu of closing the actual parks. Here are
three examples of coping strategies.
To help finance
Utah State Parks, lawmakers
propose to stage a big game hunt for bighorn sheep and trophy mule deer on
Antelope Island to raise about $500,000! That's different, I'd say.
Carolina is using a more traditional method of encouraging visitors to visit
its state parks by offering gift certificates for cabin rentals, campsites, and
other facilities. Those would make nice gifts.
Jim and Cody admire one of the falls at McKinney Falls SP
in Austin, TX. (December, 2009)
Texas sells tons of annual
vehicle passes to its state parks at $60 a pop. Card-holders then save $4-5 per person
(over the age of 13) per day on entry fees each time they visit any of
the hundred parks in the system. They recoup the $60 pretty quickly. You'd think the state would be losing money on people like us who
visit frequently and/or stay
for several weeks throughout the year, but those visitors spend money on things inside the
parks like campsites, cabin and boat rentals, food, and other items. If Texas
was losing money on the passes, it would raise the fee (which it will probably
do anyway in 2011 because of escalating costs.)
Part 3: How can we as individuals help keep parks open?
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil