Editoral by William Thornton: Keep Public Involved in Managing Arizona State Parks

Source:  Special to Arizona Daily Sun, February 4, 2017

When Gov. Earnest McFarland signed HB72 in 1957, our state took a bold and long overdue step toward meeting the outdoor recreational needs of a rapidly growing urban population.  The law provided for a system of state parks overseen by an independent seven-member board to:  “Select, acquire, preserve, establish, and maintain areas of natural features, scenic beauty, historical and scientific interest, and zoos and botanical gardens, for the education, pleasure, recreation, and health of the people and for such other purposes as may be prescribed by law.”

The system has worked well for 60 years with quarterly parks board meetings held at locations throughout the state providing opportunities for citizen input into parks planning and operation.  How well has it worked?  If we measure success in terms of visitation, our 32 state parks recorded a record 2.8 million visitations in 2016. Numbers aren’t categorized as new or repeat visitors but, based on our experience, I believe a substantial number are repeaters.  We return to our favorite state parks because we’ve come to expect fastidiously clean campgrounds with friendly and helpful staffs of park professionals and volunteers. We have never been disappointed.

All that could change if HB 2369 becomes law.  Under the guise of “streamlining” state government, the bill would abolish the State Parks Board and vest all power in the state parks director, who serves at the pleasure of the governor. It’s a classic example of “fixing” something that’s not broken.  Parks board members serve without compensation and receive only an allowance for travel expenses.  Cost savings from abolition of the State Parks Board would be minuscule.  If “streamlining” state park management eliminates the opportunity for public input and oversight, the cost is too high.

The governor, Legislature and parks director don’t own state parks — we do. If you believe, as I do, that voters, taxpayers, and park visitors should have a voice in how our parks are managed, now is the time to contact your state legislators.

William Thornton is a second-generation native Arizonan, conservationist and outdoor enthusiast. He serves on the boards of the Arizona Heritage Alliance and Friends of Ironwood Forest. Contact him at cactusworld@msn.com