Success: Reinstatement of millions of dollars for our state parks system

Gov. Doug Ducey flanked by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and AHA Pres. Janice Miano with members of the AHA Board at SB 1241 signing. (Submitted photo)

“Endless pressure; endlessly applied” became the mantra for the advocates of the State Parks Heritage Fund — which after being approved by the voters with 66% of the vote in 1990 — was unceremoniously defunded 10 years ago.

These were lottery funds giving $10 million a year to Arizona Game & Fish (not rescinded) and $10 million a year to our state parks. Dollars invested in parks, trails, and historic preservation in every county of Arizona — with great return in the form of usage by Arizonans and our tourists.

These advocates were the Arizona Heritage Alliance (AHA) — a nonprofit formed to monitor legislation requiring the state to invest in Arizona’s outdoors — our state’s natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources. The first 20 years after citizens’ support and passage of the Initiative — realized over $368 million of investment.

But 10 years without this critical funding left our state parks system on life support. Only one park operates “in the black” — the internationally acclaimed Kartchner Caverns. Parks are an amenity — often intended to be free to the public — and not a revenue generator. So, infrastructure crumbled, park hours shortened or closed, precious historic buildings deteriorated, rangers disappeared. The Arizona We Want, commissioned by ASU’s Center for the Future of Arizona, confirmed that we covet our Natural Resources and further value our Health and Well-being, both of which were being compromised by this lack of funding.

With leadership from local activist Janice Miano, following in the footsteps of Beth Woodin and Tom Woods (sadly, neither lived long enough for this historic day), AHA introduced legislation or mounted an initiative effort nearly every year for 10 years – trying to reinstate these invaluable funds. “This year, building on past efforts, hundreds of our members and friends voiced their support” for this bill and hundreds more communicated with the legislature through phone calls, emails, letters or attendance at committee hearings, said Miano.

Their effective message: Arizona’s local, regional, and state parks and recreation facilities are economic development generators that encourage the spending of tourist dollars, attract businesses whose workforce choose jobs in locations with quality of life benefits, strengthen community cohesion, and increase property values. Historic preservation initiatives in our rural communities and urban areas promote economic development by creating jobs, revitalizing historic areas, increasing property values, and promoting heritage tourism.

Our most ardent advocates at the legislature, Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and Rep. Joanne Osborne (following Rep. Russell Jones’ bills in 2011 and 12), both Republicans led the bipartisan effort to shepherd SB 1241 through the legislature. This week the bill was formally signed in Governor Ducey’s office! Next efforts will be to ensure the Fund has dollars allocated through the budget process.

The work of the Arizona Heritage Alliance took 10 years of unwavering effort, resiliency, commitment and creativity. But when you head up north to cool Dead Horse Ranch, get wet at Lake Havasu, encounter fields of wildflowers at Picacho Peak, frolic among the Red Rock, or are content to just know that resources will again be available for our seventeen state parks — thank the Heritage Fund, the Arizona State Lottery, the Arizona Heritage Alliance, and your state elected officials. Know you must be vigilant and tenacious now to protect our most precious Arizona natural resources — parks, open space, trails, historic preservation investments, outdoor recreation, open space, non-motorized trails, outdoor and environmental education, and historic preservation. “Endless pressure; endlessly applied.”

Editor’s Note: Sam Kathryn Campana is a former Scottsdale mayor and AHA board member.

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