A reprieve for Picacho state park
Randy Metcalf/The Explorer, John and Andrea Wise rest at the saddle on Picacho Peak, and take in the view of the backside of the park. Picacho Peak State Park was slated to close on June 3, but will now remain open for a trial period of one year as a result of an agreement and funding commitment from the town of Eloy.

Picacho Peak State Park and four others slated to close on June 3 will remain open.

Arizona State Parks Board Executive Director Renee Bahl has signed unique management and financial agreements with communities to keep each park open, according to a release.

"The state Parks Board . . . has voted in the last three months to negotiate with counties cities and parks friends groups to fund a total of 23 State Parks to be open in the next fiscal year," said Bahl.

The City of Eloy has raised $20,000 to prevent Picacho Peak's closure, and it plans to continue fundraising to support the park.

In addition to Picacho Peak, other state parks slated for closure that are to remain open are Roper Lake, Red Rock, Alamo and Lost Dutchman.

For other state parks like Oracle State Park, the future remains uncertain.

Oracle, Homolovi Ruins, Jerome, Lyman Lake, and McFarland state parks have been shut down since last fall as a result of insufficient state funds.

According to Arizona State Parks spokeswoman Ellen Bilbrey, there are no quick fixes. The five parks that are to remain open with the help of the local communities are only sustained through temporary "Band-aids."

"To operate the state parks, it is critical to have at least $34 million to make them sustainable," said Bilbrey. In the last year, the Arizona State Parks budget has been cut down to $12.5 million.

Communities and state parks groups have been relentless in fighting to keep parks open. The Friends of Oracle State Park have raised $50,000 for the cause through concerts, sponsors, and a fall festival.

"We're pushing forward, but we just have wait and see," said Friends of Oracle State Park President Cindy Krupicka.

Unlike Picacho Peak and the Town of Eloy, Oracle State Park has had no one step up to cover management costs for the park. "That's not our job," said Krupicka, in regards to the Friends' role.

In the meantime, the group continues to raise funds to keep the park maintained in anticipation for when it may be re-opened.

Picacho Peak's fate is only resolved for one year. Eloy's raised funds can only last for so long.

"It is a miracle that these communities have raised the funds to keep these parks open so far this year," said Parks Board Chairman Reese Woodling.

According to Bilbrey, "most communities cannot raise enough money to support the parks." The money raised thus far is really acting as a "rainy day" fund, prolonging time in hopes for better days and economic times.

Eloy Mayor Byron Jackson acknowledged the importance of supplying the money for now. "We realized that the closing of the park would negatively impact tourism and truck stops, so we decided to figure out what it would take leave the doors open," Jackson said.

The state parks system has been estimated to bring in around $266 million through taxes and revenue from visitors, but some parks contribute to that more than others.

"We can only operate the parks based on money they generate from the gate," said Bilbrey.

In regards to Oracle State Park, Friends' president Krupicka said the park was one of the first to be shut down because it was not "a money maker."

Bilbrey proposed one more temporary solution.

"Go on a state vacation, use your money here, help our economy. You don't have to go to Florida to have these experiences," she said. "People don't explore enough to find the treasures we have here in the state. Use the state parks, every dollar that comes in will help keep them open so now is the time to explore what Arizona has to offer."


Woman, aided by rangers, makes a donation to Picacho


Hikers who take on the steep, 1,500-foot climb to the top of Picacho Peak are often greeted and briefed by a state park ranger.

Rangers ensure hikers have on proper shoes, clothes, sunscreen, and a sufficient supply of water to prevent dehydration on a strenuous up-and-down climb.

Hiker Denise Morse and her husband passed the standard check on May 8 when they began the climb to the peak. They still encountered difficulty on the way down.

"Our intent was to get there early enough to beat the heat, hike to the top, return home and watch the NBA playoffs," wrote Morse in an e-mail to the Arizona State Parks Foundation. "We were successful at only one of our goals."

Morse and her husband began the hike at 12:15 p.m., reaching the peak several hours later. On the descent, Morse became dehydrated and began experiencing symptoms of extreme heat exhaustion. "I wasn't going to make it down the hill without assistance," said Morse.

Help was summoned.

"The first responder was Park Ranger Jim Head at Picacho State Park, who took control of the situation. His quick initial scene assessment, first aid administration and communication with other emergency personnel most likely saved my life," Morse said.

Morse was safely escorted down the remainder of the trail with the help of rangers. She then donated $250 to the park in gratitude, specifying "please apply the money to help Picacho Peak stay open."

"People don't realize the value of our rangers," said Ellen Bilbrey, the Arizona State Parks information officer. "They are first responders, fire fighters, law enforcers, and historians."

In the last year, the Arizona State Parks Foundation has lost more than 150 rangers and staff, with a current work force of approximately 200. "That is not a whole lot when you're talking about an entire state system," said Bilbrey.

"I'm always dumbfounded when leisure activity budgets are the first to be cut during tough economic times," said Morse. "Parks and recreation are what are needed most during the stress of the economic downturns.

"Nature allows us to appreciate what is really important and serves as a time-out from a reality we may not want to be a part of at the moment," she said. "It refreshes and revives."

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