Closing Bridge Just Doesn't Make Sense

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What are state leaders thinking?

Maybe it's a question that answers itself. Politicians and government bureaucrats are always a dangerous mix.

It was a combination of state legislators and state parks officials that managed to create the mess that now threatens to "indefinitely" shut down the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in November.

The legislators stupidly cut the state parks budget by 16 percent or $1.3 million.

The parks staff, even more stupidly, chose to close one of the most popular parks in the entire system and one that, by all indications, pays its own way.

While parks people won't admit as much, the numbers leave little doubt. If the bridge attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year a number that comes from parks officials admissions alone would have to generate in the neighborhood of $175,000 a year.

Add in gift shop revenues and a skeleton staff thanks to the state's hiring freeze, and there's just no way this park is costing the state money to operate.

And then there's the tourism issue. If Arizona generates major dollars from tourists, what kind of sense does it make to close down 11 of the state's 30 parks?

If the state budget needs to be balanced, there has to be better places to do it. If the parks department needs to make up a $1.3-million deficit, raise entrance fees to whatever it takes to avoid park closures.

Payson Mayor Ken Murphy also has an idea worth serious consideration. He says the town and county should work together to wrest control of the park from the bureaucrats down in Phoenix.

"If they don't want to keep the bridge open, then they can just sell it to us and we will," Murphy said.

Let your feelings be known. Call the Arizona State Parks Board at (602) 542-4174 or fax them at (602) 542-4188 and tell them what you think about closing the bridge.

When that body makes the final decision at 10 a.m. June 20 in the Maricopa County Supervisors Auditorium (205 W. Jefferson Street in Phoenix), as many Rim country residents as possible need to be there.

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