In March, thousands of visitors made the trip to Picacho Peak State Park to hike the trails, photograph the blooming wildflowers … and take one last look around.
If budget decisions remain, on June 3 the park below the signature ragged mountaintop along Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix will be closed, with no immediate plans for re-opening.
Robert Young, Picacho Peak State Park's manager, is hopeful things will change between now and June 3. If nothing changes, they will "close up the park, we sign it, it is off limits to everybody and anybody at that point in time.
"And then we hope for better days when money is available and we can open back up to the public," Young said.
John Millstine, a radiologist from Scottsdale, was on the trail last week. He's trying to visit as many parks as he can this year. A handful of state parks, including Picacho Peak, are pegged for closure this year because of state budget cuts.
"It's been worth it," Millstine said of his quest. "I wouldn't have had any reason to get down there and see them. It's been a lot of fun and I have enjoyed them."
Since the announcement of parks closing, Millstine has made his way to Fort Verde State Historic Park, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and Lost Dutchman State Park. And now to Picacho Peak. He's made his way along Hunter Trail to the saddle, where hikers make their way down the backside of the jagged mountain to have an accessible approach to the summit, and to Sunset Vista Trail that runs along the south side of the mountain.
Millstine suggested the park could stand to raise its entry fees from the current price of $7 per car, which covers up to four people, and $3 for each additional person.
"I am sure there is waste in the system," Millstine said. "They could probably trim some here and there."
John Wise, who was hiking with his wife Andrea, suggested $10 to get into the state parks would be more than fair.
Ellen Bilbrey, Arizona State Parks public information officer, said she has heard those suggestions and comments before.
With an agency that has been reduced from a staff of 400 people to about 217, it is hard to thin the workload any further. Picacho Peak State Park currently has five paid staff members.
State parks have about 2,000 volunteers. Bilbrey said one of the problems with a park like Picacho Peak is that it doesn't have any local, resident volunteers. Jerome State Historic Park, as an example, has town residents who volunteer all year long. But Jerome State Historic Park is now closed for repairs, and is not scheduled to reopen given the current climate.
"I think Picacho is the one park that I keep expecting to see a friends group pop up like from Robson Ranch, or SaddleBrooke, or one of those new developments out there, but we haven't seen one start up yet," Bilbrey said. Many volunteers at Picacho Peak are snowbirds who volunteer for a portion of the year, she noted, and there are legally only so many things volunteers can do.
Don White, a 76-year-old snowbird from Iowa, made his way to the summit with some other 70-somethings – Dell Malstrom, 78, from Massachusetts, Blaine Malstrom, 75, from Oregon and LaVon Rosenkrance, 72, from Idaho. They try to hike a couple times a week.
"Seven dollars per person for a carload isn't all that much," said White.
He made the suggestion that, with the help of volunteers, the park could save some money. "I think a lot of snowbirds would be willing to come out more and volunteer."
In a later e-mail, White said "it should be noted that winter visitors and tourists bring many, many dollars into Arizona, and state parks are one of the main attractions. Personally, as just one of the hundreds of thousands of winter visitors here, we spend an average of $4,500 per month, while here. Plus, we have also bought a new car while here. We feel Arizona legislators are being 'penny wise and pound foolish.'"
Better days might come before the park closes. Bilbrey said State Parks is working with the town of Eloy to help fund the park, and is trying to get a group together to help keep it open. With two months to spare, time is running short.
Young added that when the park is closed, that means it is not available to the public to enter at any time for any reason.
"Closed is closed, and unfortunately no entry during the closure period."