PHOTO: Mark Duggan
The Friends of Oracle State Park helps raise money to keep the park open.

A few years ago, Arizona State Parks was in crisis. Legislators, trying to balance the state's budget, zeroed out the park system's operating budget.

That led to the closure of several parks. One, Oracle State Park, stayed shuttered for more than two years.

The closure bothered the members of the privately-run Friends of Oracle State Park. The group was founded more than 20 years ago to support the park and its environmental education efforts through volunteerism.

Now, they realized, in order to re-open the park, they'd have to help financially, too.

Mary Ann Pogany, the group's president, says state parks officials actually approached them with the idea of private funding. Arizona State Parks simply didn't have enough money to re-open the park without help.

They asked Friends of Oracle State Park to kick in $21,000. The public/private partnership the two organizations formed was similar to programs in place at some other Arizona State Parks. Such collaborations served to re-open several other state parks that had been closed after the budget problems of 2009.

PHOTO: Mark Duggan
Oracle State Park Ranger Jennifer Rinio gives directions to a visitor.

Pogany says at first, it was enough to re-open the park to the public one day a week for a few months each year.

But this year, the park has extended its operating hours to include Sundays, too. On the weekdays, Oracle State Park continues to host schoolchildren on field trips.

Chief Park Ranger Jennifer Rinio recalls the mood of 2009, when budget cuts from the statehouse led to park closures and severe cutbacks. She endured by working at nearby Catalina State Park.

PHOTO: Mark Duggan
The historic Kannally Ranch House has a view of the San Pedro Valley and the distant Galiuro Mountains.

But, she says, it wasn't easy knowing Oracle lay quiet; its gates locked, its environmental programs on hold.

Now that the park is re-open, many of its events will be centered around those programs. Rinio says guided hikes and wildlife presentations will happen each open day at Oracle.

The 4,000-acre park is on the eastern edge of the Santa Catalina Mountains. It's in a transition zone, situated between the lofty heights of the Catalinas and the lowlands of the San Pedro River Valley. The cliff-faced Galiuro Mountains, one of the state's least accessible ranges, tower up to the east.

The centerpiece of the park is the stately Kannally ranch home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Kannally family donated the land that became Oracle State Park. There are also more than 15 miles of hiking trails, including a section of the Arizona Trail.

Oracle State Park is open Saturdays and Sundays through April 28th. It will close for the summer and re-open in October, again on weekends.

PHOTO: Mark Duggan
A volunteer keeps track of wildlife sightings on a single Saturday at Oracle State Park.

PHOTO: Mark Duggan
A scene in the garden of the Kannally Ranch House at Oracle State Park.

PHOTO: Mark Duggan
The parking lot at Oracle State Park is full again, after the park was closed for more than two years.