Leaders Urge Protest On Bridge Closure


Call your elected officials with concerns about the proposed Nov. 1 closure of the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Bob Ware says.

According to the executive director of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, his office is being deluged with calls from concerned residents.

"I think that's a great thing," Ware said, "but we need to make sure those concerns are heard by elected officials."

He suggests people call elected officials: Gila County Supervisor Ron Christensen, State Legislators Debra Brimhall, Jake Flake, Jack Brown, U.S. Representative J.D. Hayworth, and Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain.

"The pressure of the people has some value," he said. "We need to express our concerns and ask each and every elected official we call to be at the Thursday meeting."

The Arizona State Parks Department recommended the closure of the bridge and 10 other state parks, while also raising fees from $1 to $10. The board said the closures were necessitated by a 16-percent or $1.3-million cut in the Parks Department budget by the state legislature.

The Arizona State Parks Board will make a final decision at 10 a.m. Thursday during an open meeting at the Maricopa County Supervisors Auditorium, 205 W. Jefferson Street in Phoenix.

Ellen Bilbrey, public information officer for the parks department, also recommends calling legislators.

"They're the only ones who can do anything about the budget," Bilbrey said.

Meanwhile, Ware said he has been talking to other chamber executives from around the state, asking them to also attend the meeting.

Sparking local outrage is the blow the tourism-dependent Rim country economy will suffer if the bridge is closed at a time that forest closures have already taken their toll. Especially disturbing is the fact that the bridge the fourth most popular of the 30 state parks according to a parks official generates enough income to cover operating costs.

Both Flake and Christensen advocate turning the park over to private enterprise if the state can't find a way to keep it open.

"Some of our ... departments game and fish is one, parks is another they're turning into bureaucracies that just want more and more and more and more money...," Flake said. "They're holding the legislature hostage because we had to cut their budget a little bit to get through, and I don't believe in that. I'll do my best to stop it. If they want to close some parks, let's do the ones in downtown Maricopa County. Let's don't beat on the ones in rural Arizona."

Phone numbers and e-mail addresses for elected officials are printed on page 4A of the Roundup. The number of the parks board is (602) 542-4174; fax (602) 542-4188.

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