PHOENIX – Delaying capital improvements needed after years of deep budget cuts to Arizona State Parks will only exacerbate the problems and increase future costs, a state lawmaker said Wednesday.
“If you don’t take care of your infrastructure, it’s like not taking care of your house and if you let that little $2 item go and don’t fix it, you end up with a $100 repair bill,” said Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott.
Fann, whose district includes five state parks, said Arizona has been doing roughly the same thing with its parks for too long.
“Not only are we behind the curve on fixing what should have been fixed years ago, but now we have additional problems on top of them,” she said.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park remains Rim Country’s biggest tourist draw, but nearly had to close when long-neglected repairs to the roof of the historic lodge caused major interior damage. The state parks system used almost all of its small stash of capital improvement funds to repair the roof and bring the lodge back into operation. At its peak, the park drew 93,000 visitors annually who pumped more than $26 million into the local economy. However, with frequent closures for repairs and budget shortfalls, annually visitation has dropped to about 65,000 in recent years.
Bryan Martyn, director of Arizona State Parks, is requesting $15.5 million in Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget for capital improvements.
Arizona State Parks hasn’t received money from the state’s general fund since 2009 and currently works off a $19.5 million budget. Officials say state parks have about $200 million in capital needs.
Fann, who pushed successfully last year to allow Arizona State Parks to keep all gate and concession fees, said that parks are vital to the state’s economy.
“It is responsible for over 3,000 direct jobs, it is responsible for over $2 million worth of revenue, so state parks is really something we need to keep open,” Fann said. “This isn’t a feel-good item, this is about our economy. The feel-good and the beauty and all that stuff, that’s just the icing on the cake.”
Cuts to the Arizona State Parks budget led to agreements allowing some communities to take over operations and keep parks operating.
Arizona State Parks Board Chairman Tracy Westerhausen said the $15.5 million would be an investment.
“It serves the people who come from outside of Arizona to see our parks and enriches the lives of the people who are here already,” she said.
Westerhausen said the projects include improving water-treatment systems and electrification of campsites.
“We’re under a state mandate to provide clean water to people who come to our parks, and one of the things we can’t do is improve our water structure in the parks,” she said.
Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the governor, said Brewer has taken Martyn’s request into account along with all of the proposals from other state agencies.