Tonto Bridge Is A Stimulus For Rim Country

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They’re eating the seed corn down in Phoenix.

They ought to know better.

To be specific, the Arizona State Parks Board will vote today whether to shut down 11 parks, including almost self-sufficient Tonto Natural Bridge — one of the top tourist draws in Rim Country.

Not far from where they’ll vote, lie the ruins of the Hohokam civilization. In fact, Phoenix took its name because it rose like the mythological bird from the ashes of that 1,000-year-old irrigation civilization. Archaeologists have studied the teeth of those ancient Hohokam and found evidence of repeated famines at the end.

The Hohokam, too, ate their seed corn — trading one season’s survival for the seeds of next year’s harvest.

Community leaders from Rim Country today rushed down to plead for Tonto Natural Bridge, which draws nearly 100,000 paying visitors annually. Sometime this afternoon (Friday), the parks board will make a decision.

We hope they don’t make a terrible mistake and close Tonto Natural Bridge, which has a $3.6-million annual economic impact on Gila County.

The park is nearly self-supporting, which includes payments on the loan that bought the land from the pioneering family who had the wit to protect it for generations and the grace to make it available to future generations.

The net state subsidy of the park comes to 56 cents per visitor — a fraction of the subsidy going to other parks.

But we’re not here making an argument that pits one park against the other. We’re pleading with the state to balance its budget without crippling the ability of rural communities to eke through this famine time, like those desperate Hohokam in the grip of a drought.

Now that construction has collapsed and sales taxes have dwindled and the portfolios of retirees have evaporated, tourism remains the basket of seed corn for many rural communities.

The state parks system has scrimped and saved and cut and trimmed for years to protect its treasure trove of wonders. The legislature has nearly eliminated any state assistance, but now made potentially illegal raids on separately established recreation funds.

Sadly, it’s not the first time the elders in Phoenix have broken open the storehouse doors, for a foolish mouthful of seed corn. We know how that worked out the last time.

Don’t do it again. Save Tonto Natural Bridge.

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