Natural Bridge Park Closure Is Really Foolish

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Every time you think you’ve adjusted to the bizzarro wrong-headedness that passes for lawmaking, the brain trust thinks up something else to make you choke on your morning coffee.

So now they want to close Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, the best-known attraction in tourism-dependent Rim Country.

Once again, the state legislature has turned itself into a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

Consider one key statistic: The soaring travertine arch that bridges a rich regional history draws about 94,000 visitors annually — whose entrance fees entirely pay for the cost of running the park, including the payments on the loan that bought it.

So the park actually costs taxpayers nothing, but yields $3.6 million annually for local communities.

So why would some knucklehead close it?

Don’t get distracted by the need to repair the collapsing historic lodge. We’re delighted the state parks board approved the long overdue repair, but that was mostly to keep the lawmakers from swiping the last few maintenance pennies in the cookie jar. Make no mistake, the repairs have nothing whatever to do with the closure, contrary to initial misleading reports.

Nope, the closure stems from the legislature’s $35-million raid on all the parks fees and funds to close its $1.6 billion deficit. After cutting staff 21 percent, state parks wants to move the three surviving staff members at Tonto Natural Bridge to other parks.

We suspect the State Parks Board hopes its decision to close 11 of the state’s 27 parks will finally inspire tourism-dependent rural communities to beg, plead and grovel so the legislature will pause in its Texas Chainsaw Budget Massacre to at least let the parks borrow money from the voter-approved Growing Smarter fund.

So now Tonto Natural Bridge is a hostage in a budget standoff — with the legislature barricaded in the house drinking Jim Beam and ranting about aliens.

We hope that our state representatives will show up for the planned town meeting, where they might learn we have a few little economic problems up here.

Better yet, maybe we need to go to them. A visit from community leaders to those in the capitol might jump-start the negotiations to keep the park open now, not later.

Enough is enough. It’s one thing to make the hard choices necessary to balance a budget. It’s quite another to shut down a self-supporting park at the moment your constituents need it most. And create economic hardship on communities dependent on visitors.

We understand lawmakers feel the need every week to top last week’s foolishness — just to prove they can do it.

But this is ridiculous. A voter ought to be able to drink just one cup of coffee without choking.

County lobs missiles

Must be kinda boring down there in Globe. After all, the economy’s in crisis, the tinderbox forest threatens many communities, tax revenues are falling, the jail’s overflowing. Poor Gila County supervisors. Not a thing to do.

At least, that’s how it seems given the befuddled board majority’s curious and persistent effort to pick a fight with Rim Country leaders about nothing at all.

We’re still scratching our heads trying to make sense of a decision about leasing office space made last week by supervisors Shirley Dawson and Mike Pastor.

The county needed more office space and had the choice between the historic building housing the Payson Womans Club and the First American Title building.

The Womans Club offered up the building essentially for the cost of remodeling. As a result, the American Title building would end up costing $275,000 more over a five-year period. Moreover, the Womans Club option would save a historic building and boost Main Street.

And if that’s not enough, the Womans Club location was strongly supported by Payson, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and Supervisor Tommie Martin, whose offices would be in the new space.

Slam dunk, right? But what did the board majority do?

Picked the more expensive, less supported option.

Now, it’s possible that Dawson and Martin have just disagreed so often lately that it’s a reflex.

On the other hand, maybe Dawson just misses the outright warfare that divided Globe from the Rim Country for years. So Dawson figured she’d lob a few missiles into Payson to stir things up — show those historic building tree huggers a thing or two.

Maybe she’s just bored. Because this don’t make sense.

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