Arizona State Parks Can be fixed – if Gov. Doug Ducey is willing. Will he Accept?

Source:  Linda Valdez, Arizona Republic – December 2, 2018

Opinion: Not all the problems at Arizona State Parks happened on Ducey’s watch. But the remedy is up to him.

Here’s one constituent letter

Ducey can turn it into a love letter to all of Arizona and a down payment on his legacy.

The constituent letter comes from the Arizona Heritage Alliance, an impressive group of people who know and care about our state’s remarkable cultural, historical and natural treasures.

The letter asks Ducey to restore $10 million a year in Heritage Fund money for Arizona State Parks & Trails. The funds were taken away in 2010.

Parks lack money for maintenance 

Heaven knows, the Parks need money.

  • They no longer get any money from the state’s general fund, and the price of deferred maintenance has been rising for years.

And heaven knows Arizonans wanted the Parks to have the money.

  • The dedicated funding was overwhelmingly approved by voters in a 1990 citizens’ initiative, which tapped the Lottery – not the general fund – for the money.

The letter reiterates how this money was used under the plan spelled out in the citizens’ initiative:

  • For recreation and open space development, restoration or renovation.
  • For outdoor and environmental education initiatives and non-motorized trails.
  • For operation, maintenance or repair of parks and natural areas.
  • For historic preservation and archaeological projects.

The last one is of particular interest.

Former director fired after complaints

In mid-November, Ducey fired former Parks Director Sue Black and her former deputy Jim Keegan.

It came after years of complaints about Black’s management.

It also came as Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich continues investigating whether laws protecting Native American and other archaeological sites were ignored on Black’s watch to facilitate development at the Parks and raise revenue.

These alleged breaches happened after the citizens’ oversight power of the State Parks Board was gutted.

Ducey asked to heal the agency

The letter asks Ducey to “heal the agency, its staff, the State Parks Board, and concerned citizens who care about our natural, cultural, and historic resources.”

He can make this a priority in his second term under the banner of fixing somebody else’s mistake.

After all, the evisceration of the Parks Board in 2012 and the loss of the Parks’ Heritage funding in 2010 both happened before Ducey took office.

What’s more, reversing those changes is a matter of simple fairness.

  • The Arizona Game and Fish Commission, a citizens’ group that sets policy for the Game and Fish Department, retained the power that was stripped from the Parks Board.
  • Game and Fish, which manages Arizona wildlife for hunting, fishing and conservation, also retained its $10 million a year share of Heritage funding, which was included in the original voter-approved initiative.

Why do some outdoor groups get preference?

The so-called “rod and gun” constituency that relies on Game and Fish for their sport has a strong voice in the Legislature – and that’s why that agency retained both citizens’ oversight and Heritage funding. But State Parks have a statewide constituency that, while not as organized, should not be ignored. Hiking, boating, fishing, birding and exploring Native American culture. You can do that and more at these Arizona State Parks. Parks serve an essential role in an increasingly urban Arizona, providing outdoor recreation for everyone and bringing tourism to rural areas.

The State Parks are a vast treasure house of Arizona’s past and present, ranging from the Yuma Territorial Prison to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum to Lake Havasu to Kartchner Caverns to the ancient ruins at Homolovi. Properly protecting and managing this heritage demands a dedicated funding source and good citizen oversight.

How Ducey can make this right

Sure. Sue Black was Ducey’s appointment. That was his mistake.

But two detrimental changes at Parks pre-date Ducey:

  • Unlike previous directors, Black did not answer to a strong and active Parks Board; she clearly needed that kind of citizen scrutiny.
  • What’s more, the rush for development to raise revenue might not have happened if the Parks had retained the Heritage money that Arizona voters wanted them to have.

Ducey can begin fixing those problems and answer the letter from his constituents as he crafts his State of the State speech. He can do it with a pledge to restore the Parks’ share of Heritage Fund money and reinvigorate the Parks Board.

Then he can shepherd those changes through a Legislature that will be more diverse next session and more in need of visionary leadership.

Reach Valdez at linda.valdez@arizonarepublic.com.