Seeking to avert an “economic disaster” stemming from the closure of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce Manager John Stanton asked the region’s state representatives and Gov. Jan Brewer to attend a town hall meeting in Payson.
Stanton and other advocates for the nearly self-supporting park that generates $3.6 million annually in economic benefits reacted with anger Monday, when a supposed closure for repairs turned into an indefinite shutdown to shift staff to other parks.
“Tourism is the Rim Country’s economic engine and the loss of the nearly 100,000 visitors would create an even greater economic hardship than now exists in this area.”
In addition to the town hall meeting, Stanton urged the lawmakers to support House Bill 2088, which would avert park closures by letting the state parks borrow money from the voter-approved “Growing Smarter” fund, intended to support parks and open space.
The letter was e-mailed to state Sen. Sylvia Allen and state representatives Jack Brown and Bill Konopnicki, and Gov. Brewer.
Stanton and others had attended a State Parks Board meeting in the Valley on Friday, where they had the impression the park would close just long enough to repair the historic lodge, which has snow and rain damage. At that meeting, charts indicated that Tonto Natural Bridge covers all its own operating costs from admittance fees, in addition to money for payments on the loan with which the state bought the park from the pioneering family who owned it.
“It has come to our attention that this ‘temporary’ closure may be permanent or for such a period that it will drastically affect the economy of our five communities,” wrote Stanton.
“The Rim Country Regional Chamber Board and its 390 members are highly concerned about the closure of Tonto Bridge,” he continued. “Our economy has been blasted by water and fire problems, and now housing. These problems, combined with the current economic downturn, if combined with the closure of the major tourist attraction in Rim Country would potentially destroy one or more of our rural communities.”