Arizona State Parks, a promising new beginning

Source:  William C. Thornton Special to the Arizona Daily Star – February 21, 2019

Arizona’s legions of outdoor enthusiasts can all breathe a little easier. Sue Black’s tumultuous reign is over and there’s a strong steady hand on the tiller at Arizona State Parks and Trails. Bob Broschied came home to Arizona after serving five years as Executive Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper described Bob as “an incredible leader with strong vision”. We’ve turned the page, but there’s an important lesson to be learned from the Sue Black era. With the job of Parks Director comes the awesome responsibility of managing natural and cultural resources for present and future generations. We must never again allow revenue generation to take priority over stewardship of the resource.

There’s more good news. The current legislative session offers the best opportunity in ten years to Restore the Parks Heritage Fund. The Arizona Parks Heritage Fund may be the best investment of lottery dollars many Arizonans never heard of. Enacted by voters in 1990, the Heritage Fund directed $20 million to be divided equally each year between State Parks and Game and Fish. Heritage fund grants often served as seed money for matching funds from other sources. Total yearly investment was typically more than double the direct $10 million appropriation.

Parks grants have built and improved trails, campgrounds, picnic facilities, boat docks and ramps. Historical restoration grants have helped preserve important parts of our rich cultural heritage including Flagstaff’s Riordan Mansion, Yuma’s Territorial Prison, and Tucson’s Mission San Xavier del Bac. Every community in our state has benefited from Parks Heritage Fund grants.

Heritage funded improvements to parks and historic sites helped attract 3.2 million visitors, about half from out of state, in 2018. That’s more than double the combined home game attendance of the Arizona Cardinals, ASU Sun Devils, and UA Wildcats. State Park visitors generate more than $300 million in economic activity each year in the mostly rural host communities. In response to the economic downturn and decline in tax revenue the legislature swept the remaining balance of the Parks Heritage Fund into the general fund and inexplicably eliminated the fund in 2011.