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Arizona state parks still benefiting from federal shutdown

PHOENIX — Nearly a year since the federal government shutdown closed national parks, Arizona’s state parks are still reaping the benefits.

“I think people are starting to discover that they own these beautiful places and they can use them,” state parks spokeswoman Ellen Bilbrey said.

When the feds put up the “closed” signs on the Grand Canyon National Park, it opened up an opportunity for state parks. Bilbrey said a lot of people who couldn’t get into the Grand Canyon started looking for Arizona campgrounds.

“They found Homolovi near Winslow,” Bilbrey said. “We have five state parks in the Yavapai County area and they all showed significant increases. Visitors were coming south and traveling around and hanging out in those areas which they probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

“You have Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff, Slide Rock, Jerome and Dead Horse Ranch, Fort Verde State Historic Park. All of those parks showed increases in visitation.”

Bilbrey said there has been a 10 percent boost in park visitors this year and not all of that is out-of-staters.

“Every time they discover one it’s like a new treasure. I think it’s becoming more and popular among families, with people coming back eight or nine times.”

The only setback for the state parks came during the summertime closure of Slide Rock Park in Oak Creek Canyon because of a wildfire. The swim area was closed was closed through September but unbeknownst to most visitors, the rest of the park was open.

“… The impact to Sedona was pretty severe — 44,000 people in June alone didn’t realize they could use the rest of the park,” Bilbrey said.