Arizona's budget crisis could close state parks

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 today 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.

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.

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 revenue and spending in a $10.7 billion budget. The budget year that begins on July 1 has similar gaps.