Board votes to keep 5 state parks open

Board votes to keep 5 state parks open

The Arizona State Parks Board voted Wednesday to keep open five more parks slated for closure next month, leaving only four on the chopping block just months after the board voted to close nearly all state parks.

The board approved agreements for cities, counties and nonprofit groups to help pay for operations at the following parks: Alamo Lake near Wenden, Lost Dutchman near Apache Junction, Picacho Peak near Eloy, Red Rock near Sedona and Roper Lake near Safford.

All had been scheduled to close June 3 due to budget cuts and fund sweeps enacted by the Legislature.

Wednesday was “really a banner day for state parks,” director Renee Bahl said. “People have said the state parks are important and they need to be open.”

In all, state parks officials have negotiated agreements calling for outside groups to temporarily help keep open 14 parks. Combined with nine parks that never were scheduled to close, the agency will continue operating nearly all of its facilities through the busy summer season.

Four parks will remain closed: Homolovi Ruins, Jerome, McFarland and Oracle. A fifth, San Rafael, has never opened.

Park boosters said the facilities are important tourism drivers for rural communities, where stores and restaurants rely on business from park visitors.

“It brings in a lot of people from not just out of town but out of state to our community,” said Graham County Supervisor Drew John. “Rural Arizona got hit pretty hard over this economic crunch, so any kind of tourism dollars are important to us.”

John helped arrange for volunteers, maintenance work and inmate labor from the county to keep open Roper Lake State Park in Safford.

“The parks that we have in our system are the crown jewels of this state, and we have the responsibility to protect those assets for future generation of Arizonans,” said Chip Davis, a supervisor on Yavapai County, which raised $50,000 and hopes to raise another $110,000 to keep open Red Rock State Park near Sedona.