By Susan Johnson
In 2008, Red Rock State Park’s payroll was $333,410, including benefits, and its operating expenses were $60,992 for a total debit side of $394,402, according to Ellen Bilbrey, public information officer for Arizona State Parks.
On the credit side, the park brought in $189,122 through revenues from gate fees and other fees.
That leaves a difference of $205,280 if the park were expected to be self-funding — which it is not.
Instead, Red Rock State Park is considered just one element of ASP’s system of parks, its costs and revenues pooled with the 26 other state parks.
Each of the 27 parks is classified as historic, conservation or recreational in nature, with the recreational parks expected to make more than they cost and the historic and conservation parks to make less than they cost, according to Ellen Bilbrey.
That means the $394,402 funding for RRSP, considered a conservation area, comes from at least four of the 14 different accounts that make up the ASP’s consolidated ledger system.
From the General Fund came $109,405, the Enhancement Fund (user fees) contributed $181,024, the Heritage Fund — Environmental Education kicked in $99,903 and the Park Donation Account came up with $4,070, according to Bilbrey.
The sources of those funds, including $10 million from the Arizona State Lottery, will be the subject of a subsequent article looking at the state parks in total, but this story will take a quick look at gate fees and revenues to consider what it would take to close the gap between income and outgo if Red Rock State Park were self-funded.
Gate fees for the park in 2008 were $6 per car. [The fee has since been raised to $7.]
For visitors who came two by two, that made it $3 each to get in.
If four squeezed into the car, it was only $1.50 per person.
Students who came for programs in the park last year totaled about 3,500 and each paid $1 to get in.
Their teachers and chaperones were not charged.
Holders of ASP standard annual passes paid a one-time fee of $50 which allowed unlimited access to all of the state parks for the holder of the pass and three guests, except on weekends at the “lake” parks.
In addition to the gate fee, brides and hosts of parties and picnics paid $50 per event for four hours in the park, covering as many people as attended.
Every single one of those prices for admittance constitutes a bargain that cannot be duplicated in any commercial enterprise.
Local commercially-led hiking tours begin at $40 per person.
A variety of other tourist attractions in the Verde Valley begin at $30 per person.
Red Rock State Park is in a premier destination location and could easily justify higher fees, particularly when considering the level of professional interpretive expertise offered by the permanent staff as well as the volunteers who, at the very minimum receive naturalist training.
Although some complain about paying for entry to the park, thinking incorrectly that the Red Rock Pass covers it, few turn away once they understand the difference between state parks and National Forest Service land.
As a result, in 2008, the park admitted 79,617 visitors.
Of those, 20,621 were in-state residents and 58,996 were out-of-state or international residents.
To cover its expenses and have a little left over, the park would have had to charge only $5 a head across the board.
Some people, including Park Manager Gary Arbeiter, worry that higher fees would be a disincentive to visitation.
That may be true for local residents; however, it’s unlikely that any nonlocal visitor on vacation would find fault with a slightly higher entrance cost.
To alleviate negative reactions from local visitors, a two-tiered fee structure could be adopted, charging nonlocals slightly more and keeping the student rate at $1.
Even at $6 per person for nonlocals, the entry fee would be a bargain.
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