Rally Around Natural Bridge

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The political theater swirling now around the absurd decision to close Tonto Natural Bridge State Park would be funny, if it weren’t so serious.

The legislature took $35 million from state parks — taking far more from the parks than lawmakers originally provided in support from the general fund.

So state parks board members found themselves standing on the cliff edge, staring down at the travertine boulder strewn pools far below.

What to do? Something outrageous — like closing a self-supporting park that draws nearly 100,000 people annually and remains vital to the struggling, tourist-dependent economy of the Rim Country. That should rile folks up and rattle the cages of the state lawmakers.

Heck, maybe lawmakers will do something, like letting the parks borrow money from the Land Conservation Fund, a $68 million piggy bank set up by the voters eight years ago to buy state land to preserve as open space.

So far, it’s working. Rim Country officials reacted with justifiable anger, goaded by a punch in the face by the people who should actually help us get through the recession. What kind of a short-sighted politician would close a self-supporting park that’s paying its own mortgage to transfer staff to money-losing parks?

So now our state representatives — Bill Konopnicki and Jack Brown — will make a pilgrimage to Payson on Tuesday for a town hall meeting at 2 p.m. in the Best Western conference center. You should all be there. Mad as can be. Not going to take it.

Hopefully, they’ll knit their brows, wring their hands and dig out of the budget seat cushions the relative pittance it would take the keep the park open.

We hope that’s how it works. We cannot believe anyone would do something so foolish as closing a self-supporting park needed so by their recession-plagued constituents.

But more than that, we hope the now aroused Rim Country leadership will seize this opportunity to restore the Tonto Natural Bridge to its previous glory. The state parks did significantly improve access and therefore visitation by putting in a good road after the buyout in 1993. However, the state also let the once-profitable guest lodge deteriorate, while closing the swimming pool, campgrounds and restaurant. A park where people once went to experience the outdoors became a museum piece viewed from a locked platform.

We can do better and get a much greater gain from this precious public resource. It will take a real partnership between the state and Rim Country communities and maybe a private concessionaire with marketing savvy.

So let us hope that’s what comes of this stirring piece of political theater.

Stop to ask the question

Thank God for Donovan Christian and the people who keep Payson’s Time Out domestic violence shelter going.

Oh, and the 70 people who last year volunteered 16,000 hours — a value to the community of about $325,000.

The folks at the shelter last year provided 111,000 nights of shelter to 126 women and children fleeing dangerous, violent relationships. The shelter’s existence helps explain why none of the roughly 130 domestic violence murders in Arizona took place in Payson — despite some 117 arrests on domestic violence charges here.

In Payson, at least, women and their children have somewhere safe to go. Who can say how many deaths and how much ongoing trauma that shelter has averted?

Time Out held its annual meeting this week and Christian, a local pastor, told the brave and harrowing story of how such intimate violence shadowed his whole life as a child, as detailed on today’s front page.

He talked about how he used to sit quietly on a stairwell at church, hoping someone would see and hear and speak and act. No one did when he needed it, but he’s acting now, by telling his story. We’re deeply grateful to him for that. We will only end the scourge that lies at the root of so many other social ills when we each start paying attention, asking that question, taking that action — and that will happen only if people like Christian muster the courage and hope to tell their stories.

Lamentably, the shelter, which has scrimped and survived and grown for more than a decade, now faces serious budget problems as a result of the potential loss of state and federal grants due to the recession. About 10 percent of the group’s money comes from its Thrift Shop, which urgently needs donations of things it can sell — especially big-ticket items like furniture. The shelter also has an ongoing need for volunteers and donations.

People like Donovan Christian have done the hard thing, bearing witness to the toll of this hidden crime.

So now it falls to us — first to support the good work of the shelter and then to notice the silent child on the stairwell and also stoop to ask the question, “Is there anything wrong, dear one?”

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