This letter is in response to several articles that appeared in The Explorer recently regarding Arizona state parks. I firmly believe that all 27 Arizona state parks and the three natural areas, in the state park system, can and should remain open to the public seven days a week, based on the following key measures:
(1) Senate Bill 1349 (State Parks: Management): This important legislation, which will soon be signed by Gov. Brewer, will permit the state to competitively bid the operation of some state parks to be managed by private companies that specialize in this type of work. So far, five companies, including at least one based in Arizona, have shown a strong interest in bidding for this work. These companies successfully manage state, county and local parks throughout the USA.
Eight to 85 percent of the current operation of our state parks is made up of the salaries and benefits for the full-time state employees. Private companies can operate the parks with a lower overhead by employing retirees, college students, etc. Since the early 1900s, when President Teddy Roosevelt first established our national park system, private companies have operated park hotels, restaurants, and other major park concessions. The parks will remain the property of the state government and visitors to the parks will see no change in the day-to-day operation of the parks. Private companies that will operate some of our state parks will be audited and inspected by Arizona State
Parks Department personnel and they will pay the state a concession fee based on their competitive bid.
Many volunteers work at our state parks and they will be encouraged to continue and expand. For example, there are 120 Friends of Oracle State Park, and this volunteer group raises thousands of dollars each year and does thousands of hours of volunteer work to support Oracle State Park. This was the first parks' Friends group in Arizona. This concept needs to be expanded to every state park in Arizona, including Catalina State Park.
(2) Expand state park RV camp sites: Some parks already have RV camp sites. Catalina State Park now has 170 RV camp sites and each one generates an average of $20 a day. This part of the park has the potential of generating $3,000 a day, which works out to approximately $1 million a year. Parks that already have RV camp sites can expand the number at the park and state parks that do not have any RV camp sites should have some built. The Arizona Department of Corrections' Arizona Correctional Industries can build these additional RV camp sites very inexpensively.
(3) Park maintenance: Several state parks have been closed because some key buildings require major renovation. In the City of Douglas, state inmate labor completely restored a historic train depot and it now functions as the city's police department. They are currently refurbishing a 100-year-old historic theater that has been closed for 50 years. For more details, please go to www.adc.state.az.us and click on Inmate Labor to view a short video on this overall subject. Arizona Department of Corrections labor can renovate and maintain state parks buildings in a very cost-effective ongoing operation. The inmates involved will be returning to society in a year or two. This experience will help them find and keep jobs after they are released. Statistics show that the overall recidivism rate is cut in half for inmates engaged in these work programs.
All Arizona state parks should be open to the public. Some parks can continue to be operated by state parks personnel and others (either closed or slated for closure) can be operated by private companies under state contract.
The above noted measures show that all 30 state park facilities can and should be open seven days a week throughout the year. I will continue to do all that I can at the Arizona State Legislature to make sure that this happens.
Sen. Al Melvin is a Republican from SaddleBrooke representing District 26 in the Arizona Senate.