[Source: Steve Ayers, Camp Verde Bugle] – The move to put an initiative on the November ballot that supporters hope will stabilize and sustain Arizona’s 27 state parks, is underway. It is known as the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act. With five state parks located in the Verde Valley, along with the Verde River Greenway, the initiative is getting plenty of support locally.
“This has everything to do with the value of state parks to the Verde Valley and to Yavapai County,” says Chip Norton, president of the Friends of the Verde River Greenway. “It means a lot to our communities and the opportunities it provides for school kids as well as the residents. The tourism component is really big. The amount of money it brings into the valley is pretty phenomenal. They have been hanging on the edge for too long, forcing local communities to keep them going.” Norton and the friends group launched the petition drive at a meeting last Thursday, at a meeting in Cottonwood.
If the initiative makes the ballot and it passes, it would fund the operations of Arizona State Parks as well as the Heritage Fund, which was also raided by the Legislature, with a $14 donation attached to annual vehicle registration. The charge would be automatically added to the registration cost, but vehicle owners could opt out. Supporters hope it will raise $30 million a year. The initiative protects all money donated to the fund from legislative sweeps and re-establishes the Arizona State Parks grant program, which pays for municipal and nonprofit recreation projects across the state. It also provides for free admission to state parks for school-age children when on school sanctioned field trips and sets aside at least one day every year in which anyone could come to a state park for free.
The initiative was launched by the Arizona State Parks Foundation after House Bill 2362, which overwhelmingly passed both the house and Senate, was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. “We have been watching for some time and realized there was growing support for long-term support and a long term funding mechanism of some sort. So we began forming a coalition,” says ASPF Director Christy Statler. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was the governor’s veto. And no legislator wanted to stick their neck out for a referral to the voters, so we mobilized and are moving forward with the Arizona Natural Resources Act.”
Volunteers will be circulating petitions around the valley over the next few weeks. To get on the ballot, 175,000 signatures will need to be collected statewide by the July 5 deadline.