Tough choices are made every day at the state legislature, but whether to shut down our state parks isn't a difficult decision.
It just shouldn't happen.
Arizonans know that closing our state parks is a wrong-track plan that just pulls more money away from our communities' economies.
The revenue generated by our own state parks — Catalina and Oracle for example — is important to small businesses. Out-of-state visitors to our parks pump money into our communities and can play important role in getting Arizona back on the right track.
But recently, the majority at the state legislature passed and the governor signed a budget that takes away the Heritage Fund, a voter-approved fund allocated to state parks.
Taking away $10 million voters approved for state parks undermines the will of Arizona voters. Arizona's Voter Protection Act protects citizen initiatives from legislative power grabs. Voters brought the initiative to the ballot after the legislature repeatedly raided voter-approved measures.
Since it started, the Heritage Fund also has provided more than $7.2 million in support to projects in the Tucson area. Taking these funds from our towns and our state parks is shortsighted and will cost the state in the long run.
A study by Northern Arizona University's business school found that 2.3 million people visit state parks each year and feed more than $266 million into the Arizona economy. About half of those visitors were out-of-state.
Oracle State Park, which provided excellent hiking trails, historical lectures and musical and literary events at the historic Kannally Ranch House, already has been closed for most uses due to budget cuts, and the surrounding community greatly misses this resource. (Fortunately, there are opportunities during April and May to support the maintenance efforts for Oracle State park. Please visit: http://azstateparks.com/Parks/ORAC/index.html to learn more.)
Catalina State Park is a year-round campground and continuously brings in money to the state park system. Hikers, equestrians, bicyclists, church groups, Girl and Boy Scout troops frequently use Catalina State Park for outdoor activities. It also offers excellent bird watching opportunities. While it hasn't been closed yet, we need to make sure we keep it open.
Jobs have been lost due to the closure of state parks. That isn't a step on the right track.
Taking these funds will close the remaining state parks and further hurt the economic stability of small businesses and residents in surrounding areas. It is not a solution.
State parks sustain jobs, promote rural economic development, attract tourism and serve as important recreational areas for Arizonans. They preserve the history and legacy of Arizona.
In a state that is becoming increasingly urbanized, we need our state parks more than ever to provide outlets where citizens of all ages have affordable opportunities for healthy recreational opportunities.
By closing the parks, tourists may never get the opportunity to view more than 50 historic buildings protected in the state parks system or the rare opportunities they present to see wildlife.
Arizonans are tired of the wrong-track legislation from the majority party.
State parks are valuable resources to our economy and keeping them open will help improve the economic pulse of our state.
Nancy Young Wright represents District 26 in the Arizona House of Representatives. She is a Democrat.