State Parks Reeling From Budget Cuts

January 05, 2012

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- State parks across the southwest are reeling from budget cuts.

California officials plan to close 70 parks by next summer. In Arizona, parks closed and reopened with the help of community partners. The Texas Wildlife and Park Foundation is asking for more than $4 million in donations to keep its parks open.

Two years ago, when Arizona closed 15 state parks to save money, tourism suffered.

"No one really differentiates between state parks, county parks or national parks. They just assume Arizona is closed," said Jay Ream, assistant director of Arizona State Parks. "When the message ‘All the parks are open’ got out, it didn’t get near as much national attention as all the parks closing."

Now California is getting the negative publicity. Tourists have complained on travel blogs about closed trails and campgrounds.

California poppies grow along the coast at Montana De Oro State Park. It is one of dozens of California State Parks threatened with closure due to California's budget crisis.

Mark Landon runs Nature Corps, a volunteer park conservation organization in California.

"The state relies very heavily on tourism," Landon said. "We just can’t afford to have word getting out that the resources are closed and they’re not in the best condition, especially in this economic environment."

State legislators in Arizona and California are making it easier for nonprofits, cities and counties to operate parks. More than a dozen parks have reopened in Arizona with the help of community partnerships. The Hopi Tribe has kicked in $175,000 to keep Homolovi State Park open.

Parks now rely heavily on volunteers to maintain trails and infrastructure. But park directors say without rangers, many parks are vulnerable to poachers, marijuana growers and smugglers.