How to Save a Park

[Source: Bestsy Bruner, azdailysun.com]

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Events this year have stood testament to how much our mountain town still loves its history and culture, and the arts that arise from these inspirations.

January began with heartfelt efforts to save Riordan Mansion State Historic Park (RMSHP) from possible closure because of shortfalls in the state budget. Riordan was to be in the first in a phased series of closures mandated Jan. 15 by the Arizona State Parks Board.

The community was united in a desire to save the mansion and park from closure because of its importance as the home of the prominent Riordan family, its unique American Arts and Crafts design, and its place as the only house in the nation where the Gustav Stickley furniture is original to the home.

Above all, the mansion serves as a reminder of Flagstaff’s humble days and future ambition, symbolized by the brothers Tim and Michael Riordan, who arrived here from Chicago in the mid-1800s. They married, and with their wives and children, made their two adjoining homes alive with the spirit and warmth of the arts and culture.

The grassroots Riordan Action network (RAN), began by volunteers at the mansion, stepped in to lead the battle to raise funds and other support to keep the doors open on this special window into history.

It worked.

Today, RAN has collected more than $55,000 in donations and fundraising events to help fund the running of the park, especially in the slower visitation winter months when more money will need to be spent to run the park than is coming in from park fees and gift shop sales.

A March vote by the Arizona State Parks Board delayed the closing of the park and laid the groundwork for an agreement between Arizona State Parks and the Arizona Historical Society to allow AHS to operation the mansion and park for three years, with the ability to continue for two more three-year terms.

In the fall, the Flagstaff Community Foundation awarded a grant to assist with the funding of RMSHP educational programs for local school youth.

With staff reductions and a reduction in hours open, Riordan never really closed and continues to welcome visitors each week Thursday through Monday.

“I would add an observation about the precariousness of local history as we go forward,” commented Leslie Roe, director of Pioneer History Museum, and now, Riordan Mansion. “Both Riordan and Pioneer museum came very close to closing in 2010. It was largely through incredible effort and sacrifice of local volunteers and staff that they both remain open.”

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Betsey Bruner can be reached at bbruner@azdailysun.com or 556-2255.