Ronald Reagan liked to tell the one about the optimist confronted with a room filled to the ceiling with horse dung.
The fellow takes a long look at the steaming, stinking mess and smiles: “Must be a pony in there somewhere,” he observes.
So we are compelled to note the bright spot in the sometimes absurd tale of the closing of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
The residents of Rim Country demonstrated political smarts and determination in the way they’ve rallied to protect the best-known attraction in a region now critically dependent on tourist dollars.
Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce Manager John Stanton led the charge, with help from an array of elected officials and community leaders.
The chamber orchestrated a meeting this week that lured Rep. Bill Konopnicki (R-Safford) and Rep. Jack Brown (D-St. Johns) to Payson for an overflow town meeting. Then Payson Mayor Kenny Evans and Stanton also traveled to Phoenix to lobby newly elected Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake).
The indignant and persistent response to the ridiculous decision to close the park to carry out repairs on the long-neglected historic lodge demonstrates the value of an aggressive defense of our interests.
Of course, we’re self-sufficient types up here — wary of government solutions. But we also can’t stand by shaking our heads when government makes irresponsible decisions.
Granted, these lobbying efforts might fail. But we nourish a growing hope that the state parks board will reopen the park immediately with the lodge fenced off and a mostly volunteer staff helping visitors.
Of course, our admiration for the community response alternated with our rueful appreciation of the absurdist political theater the whole debate has provoked.
After all, Brown and Konopnicki did vote for the $34-million funds sweep that prompted the already leaky, structurally unsound parks budget to collapse into a heap of splinters.
The parks must now operate at a 1971 budget level, when there were 10 instead of the 27 parks that are currently in the system. The parks board had to make drastic cuts — the legislature left them no choice.
Granted, they shouldn’t have closed one of the few self-supporting parks — especially one that draws nearly 100,000 visitors to an area critically dependent upon tourism. We suspect the parks board figured maybe if they actually closed parks, someone would notice they were buried under the rubble and get a shovel to dig them out.
But we had to laugh when Brown, Konopnicki and Allen all knitted their brows and scolded the parks board — as though the legislature itself wasn’t the termite swarm that brought the house down.
They could have owned up — but instead they just blamed the parks board for the budget problem the legislature created.
Reminds us of another political joke: This fellow shotguns his parents, gets arrested, goes to court, faces the judge. He then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is now an orphan.
Heck. Maybe he ought to run for office.