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State Parks board OKs agreements to keep two parks open; chairman decries budget cuts

Two state parks got new life Wednesday when the Arizona State Parks Board approved partnerships with local officials, but the board’s chairman said such efforts will be in vain if the Legislature keeps slashing the agency’s budget.

“I just am furious at this anti-feeling toward state parks, and all the money we generate through taxes and in these rural communities is being taken away,” Reese Woodling said as the board discussed a revised budget and plans for Lyman Lake State Park and Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.

“It seems like we’re getting attacked,” he added. “Every time the Legislature meets, it’s more money taken away from state parks and we have to close more parks and it’s just not right.”

Thus far, six local or county governments have signed takeover or subsidy agreements to keep parks open through this summer, buying time to find more permanent solutions, according to Renee Bahl, the agency’s executive director.

On Wednesday, the board approved letting Santa Cruz County operate Tubac, the oldest state park, which was targeted for closure. Apache County will provide $40,000 to reopen Lyman Lake, which is south of St. Johns, from late May through early September.

Local governments and community groups told the board they hope to strike similar agreements for Alamo Lake, Lost Dutchman, Picacho Peak and Red Rock state parks by May.

But Arlan Colton and other board members said all of this work will be for naught if the agency loses one of its few profitable parks _ Lake Havasu _ to its namesake city in a long-term lease. That would be the effect of a bill proposed by Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City.

“This bill is a slap in the face to all those people around the state working cooperatively to save the state parks that don’t make money,” Colton said. “Lake Havasu, which does make money, cannot only support itself but can also support the park system. It is a system _ it’s not the ’state of Lake Havasu City.’”

Lake Havasu City officials, who are proposing paying the state $50,000 a year over a 25-year lease, said they fear Arizona State Parks cannot provide adequate and stable funding for their city’s biggest attraction.

Another bill of concern for board members would allow Arizonans to elect to donate $10 for Arizona State Parks when registering vehicles. Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, offered the bill after blocking legislation that would have let voters decide whether to add $12 to vehicle registration fees, with most of that money helping support state parks.

Ziemann told the board that IBM, an Arizona Department of Transportation contractor, told ADOT such a system would cost between $90,000 and $100,000 to implement. ADOT spokeswoman Laura Douglas confirmed that amount in a telephone interview.

“That obviously raises some red flags and concerns about who is going to pay for that if the number of contributions don’t come to that amount,” Ziemann told the board.

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