- The Washington Times - Monday, January 18, 2010

PHOENIX | Arizona is on the verge of permanently closing more than half of its state parks to ease its budget woes — the most drastic such proposal in the nation and one that could mean shutting down some iconic Old West locations.

The plan would close the Tombstone Courthouse and the Yuma Territorial Prison, and shut down parks that draw tens of thousands of tourists a year such as Red Rock State Park in Sedona.

“We don’t have a choice. It’s either shut them all down right now or shut them down in phases, and we’re picking the ones that cost the state money,” said Reese Woodling, head of the Arizona Parks Board, which plans on Friday to take up a staff recommendation to close 13 parks by June 3. State officials closed five parks last year.

If the additional closures are approved, two-thirds of the state parks in Arizona will be shut down.

Arizona is not the only place where lawmakers are targeting parks, but it is taking the most aggressive action, said Phil McNelly, executive director of the National Association of State Parks Directors.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year proposed closing 220 of California’s 279 parks in the face of a multibillion-dollar deficit. But the governor backed off four months later after protests from park activists.

Mr. Schwarzenegger returned to the issue this month by proposing to expand oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast to provide $140 million for state parks.

Officials in Louisiana, Iowa and Idaho have said they may close all or parts of state parks in response to budget problems. Other states have transferred parks to local control.

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter hopes to disband the state parks agency, saving $10 million by selling the headquarters building and moving management of 30 state parks to other agencies. Opponents have raised potential legal issues, but Mr. Otter’s office hopes to find a way around them.

In Arizona, cities are fretting about losing the tourists who visited because of the state parks. Some communities are trying to find ways to run the parks themselves, but they too have money problems.

Arizona lawmakers cut parks and other expenses last year as they tried to fill a nearly 30 percent gap between revenues and spending in a $10.7 billion budget. The budget year that begins on July 1 has similar gaps.

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