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Budget woes have led Arizona to close five state parks and propose 13 more closures, something that could devastate the state economy further.

With their funding cut by over 60 percent, according to the Associated Press, state park representatives feel the need to close to the public. However, this could have drastic unforeseen consequences to the Arizona economy, including a lowering of tourism and a rise in the cost of park use.

According to The Arizona Republic, it could cost Arizona taxpayers $46,000 more to close Fort Verde Historic State Park than to keep it open next year. The trend remains the same for other state parks.

The state parks system brings in a whopping $266 million to the state every year, according to a Northern Arizona University survey. Besides the fact that this system is a profitable part of Arizona’s economy and a safe-haven for the beautiful desert landscape, it is also vulnerable to big businesses wanting to cash in on these natural resources.

If the state parks close and the land fails to be maintained, it gives incentive for the state to rent out these lands to private businesses. These companies have the potential to privatize the desert land that has always been accessible to all of Arizona’s residents and visitors.

Meet SB 1349, which would allow the Arizona State Parks Board to rent these lands to private companies. The bill, if passed, poses a threat to the Arizona landscape and the integrity of the state in regards to management of its natural resources.

Besides that, the state would not see a fiscal return on any tourism or other activities going on in the parks. This money would go straight to the companies running them and Arizona taxpayers would fail to benefit in the way they used to from the profits these parks provide.

A much more promising solution is HCR 2040 — with support from both Democrats and Republicans, it proposes a $12 surcharge on vehicle registrations, $9 of which would go to fund state parks, according to the Republic. Its passage will depend on support from Arizona voters in the next election.

The residents most affected currently by park closures continue to be those in the small towns surrounding them. But if state parks are going to continue to be maintained in the same way they have been the past several years, these towns need help.

As residents of the Valley, it’s easy to forget the surrounding desert around us. Lush greenery, automobiles, large buildings and air conditioning allow us to forget our true surroundings, however beautiful they may be.

The fact is, the state park system controls a large portion of undisturbed natural landscape — it is a system that is trusted and appreciated by tourists and residents alike. We should speak up and demand that these parks stay open and managed by the parks department if we do not want to see the beautiful deserts fade before our eyes.

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