Superstition Mountains, gold draw tourists to Apache Junction

[Source: Rachael Myer, Aug. 10, 2010]

Photographers travel hundreds of miles to take pictures of wildflowers blooming at the base of the Superstition Mountains.

Miners still disappear in the ridges looking for the fabled lost gold.

Lost Dutchman State Park’s saguaro cactus, ocotillo plants, and wild javelina draw tourists from all over the world.

With a challenging economy, Apache Junction is launching a tourism effort fused around the park’s beauty and mystique.

The timing seems just right to center a tourism push on the park. This spring the community rallied in droves to save Lost Dutchman from possible closure and the park recently received $1 million in grants for capital improvements.

Now city officials are distributing brochures, creating online videos, and planning downtown revitalization efforts to boost the East Valley city’s economy.

Lost Dutchman’s support, capital improvements

Public support for Lost Dutchman State Park appears to never have been more abundant.

Residents from nearby communities raised $26,000 this spring to keep the park open after a lack of state funding threatened to close it.

Donations came rolling in.

Taylor H. Sanford Jr., a Texas resident who winters in Mesa, donated $8,000. Haley Anderson, 12, led the fundraising effort at Mesa’s Smith Junior High School and collected $1,431. Superstition Harley-Davidson sponsored a motorcycle ride that generated $10,000.

The Friends of the Lost Dutchman State Park formed after the closure threat. The organization continues advocacy efforts even though the State Parks Board voted in May to keep the park open.

Capital improvements to the park over the summer will help to attract more visitors and enable them to stay longer, officials said.

Installing electricity at 38 campsites and constructing an additional restroom and shower will allow campers to enjoy air conditioning in their recreational vehicles, and encourage longer stays in the campgrounds.

The $1 million project, funded through federal and state grants, is expected to be completed in the fall.

Officials hope campers will spend more money at the local grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants. About 100,000 visitors – almost half from outside of Arizona – come to the park each year.

The park generates a significant economic boost of $4 million. More than 45 jobs are indirectly tied to the park, according to the state park system.

Mitzi Rinehart has led hikes and educated visitors at the park for nine years. She has met people who have traveled from Scotland, Germany, and Italy.

“They’ve all heard about the Superstition mines and the gold,” the 75-year-old park volunteer said. “They say have you found the gold yet? I’ll say if I had, do you think I’d be standing here?”

Rinehart enjoys the park most of all for the Superstition Mountains’ beauty.

“There’s more quality to a life if you get nature in it and you understand it,” she said. “You take time out for reflection.”

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