A big idea to close Arizona parks’ budget gap

[Source: Bryan Martyn, Arizona Republic Opinion] – Arizona State Parks and programs generate more than $300 million annually for rural economies thanks to the almost 2.5 million visitors exploring Arizona’s wide-open spaces.

Unfortunately, the legislative funding to keep parks healthy and promoting Arizona’s tourism has dwindled to almost nothing. Five years ago State Parks’ operating funds were swept by $81 million and the annual $10 million from the voter-approved Heritage Fund was eliminated.

To help overcome these operating fund losses and to create funding to mitigate an $80 million backlog in park maintenance projects, the agency made it a mission to review best business practices from around the country to help identify alternative funding sources.

One of the best business concepts is to create additional revenue by enhancing the services provided by private concessionaires.

The State Parks department utilizes eight concessionaires who provide valuable amenities and services within the parks. These concessions provide everything from boat rentals to fishing tackle.

Many of these small concession contracts are expiring soon, and these facilities are in need of new capital improvements. To address this issue, the agency is exploring the possibility of attracting a single concessionaire with the business acumen and financial strength to dramatically increase the agency’s concession revenues and provide amenities to help drive those revenues.

Arizona’s state parks directly and indirectly generate millions of dollars each year to boost Arizona’s tourism economies. Parks currently generate $13 million annually through gate fees to operate all parks and statewide agency programs.

The agency has 163 full-time employees, down from more than 400 in 2007. We effectively utilize 1,000 volunteers who donate $5 million worth of salaried time to help keep the parks operating.

Bryan Martyn is director of Arizona State Parks.

Story Highlights

  • State parks struggle to find the money to stay afloat
  • Staff and volunteers have performed valiantly
  • But hiring a single concessionaire could provide the financial acumen to improve amenities

State support is essential

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] – Budget cutting left the state’s park system seriously wounded. Now, Arizona has to decide if it will leave the parks bleeding. Will the next generation find the kind of robust park experience envisioned by Arizonans who supported state funding for parks with the 1990 Heritage Fund initiative and land acquisition through the 1998 Growing Smarter referendum?

That vision included public support to grow and enrich parks.Or will your grandchildren find a few remnants of an anemic system?

That could be the consequence of years of budget cuts to the state park system, which saw its funding slashed from about $54.7 million in fiscal 2008 to $25.7 million in the past fiscal year.

A report from the state Auditor General’s Office says the Parks Board “was established as a publicly funded agency to provide a system of state parks for the public to enjoy. The loss of state funding … created a need for the state parks system to transition from being publicly funded to paying for its own operating expenditures. However, park receipts have not been sufficient to cover park operating expenditures.”

There was no public outcry to “transition” the parks from state support. In fact, the public repeatedly has used the ballot box to express support for the parks and open spaces.

No wonder. The parks serve a variety of public interests.

Economic: A 2009 study by Northern Arizona University found that state parks visitors had a statewide impact of more than $266 million, plus an additional $22.8 million in state and local taxes. Parks help rural economies.

Recreational: State parks offer hiking, camping and other outdoor experiences.

Educational: Historic landmarks, such as Yuma Territorial Prison State Park, preserve Arizona’s colorful heritage.

Spiritual: Arizona is enriched by the grace, beauty and culture of state parks.

A robust park system says something positive about a state’s vision of itself and its future.

Some might argue that Arizona has plenty of federal land and national parks to satisfy its needs. But Kartchner Caverns, Catalina State Park, Picacho Peak or Tubac Presidio are special, uniquely Arizonan places that deserve state park status. Arizona’s 30 state parks are jewels worth keeping in the public trust for future generations — including your grandkids’.

Arizona’s budget was in deep trouble in 2008 and subsequent years. The Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer had to make painful cuts. However, in 2010, alternatives were proposed to help keep the parks whole. A proposal for a vehicle-registration fee to provide long-term stable funding for the parks never made it out of committee.

Stonewalling that idea suggests some of our elected officials have philosophical reasons for wanting to limit public funding to the parks. But the voting public supports parks.

The auditor general’s report found that reduced funding, coupled with reduced visitation, create long-term risks for the sustainability of the parks. The report lays out some options for partnerships and other alternatives that are worth exploring.

But state support is essential.

Arizona must move beyond the crisis mentality of recession-era budgets and plan for a state park system worthy of Arizona’s amazing history and eye-popping natural heritage.

It’s time to heal the wounds inflicted on Arizona’s park system.

Small cities struggle with historic preservation efforts

[Source: John Yantis, AZ Republic] – The wrecking ball often swings faster in smaller cities trying to save history, preservationists and local leaders say. Money, know-how, constantly changing priorities and new residents with shallow roots in the community often hinder efforts to protect historic architecture and cultural sites. The dilemma leaves longtime residents disappointed and frustrates efforts to save local landmarks.

In June, former students failed to save an auditorium-turned gymnasium in Litchfield Park. Constructed in 1928, the gym was a reminder of the city’s early days. A month later, Buckeye officials voted to demolish a cotton gin that was also built in 1928. After the decision, a town councilman wondered aloud why Buckeye bothers to advertise its historic past. “The gin is just a rusty building,” said Councilman Robert Garza, a fifth-generation native of Buckeye. “But it is part of our heritage.”

Preservation can present challenges in larger cities, too. In Mesa, organized efforts to save historic sites began in the mid-1990s, but advocates said they only came after the city lost numerous noteworthy buildings, including a social hall, park and school.

Impediments to saving history in smaller cities are usually more acute. They often start too late. “It can happen at all different levels, but I think small communities haven’t spent a lot (of) time inventorying,” said James Garrison, state historic-preservation officer.

“They’re interested in growth and new things and attracting businesses and doing all these things and often don’t take a look around at what might fit a new use or be available for adaptive reuse.” Adaptive reuse is a process that allows older buildings to be used for new purposes while retaining their historic features.

Many large cities have preservation officers and commissions that allow experts to plan and look for properties that could become endangered, Garrison said. Smaller towns’ historic sites often go vacant, which escalates the cost to fix them up. Buildings left empty deteriorate quickly and are often vandalized. Also, often there is little practical discussion about what they will be used for. Every property can’t become a museum, but these sites still need an active life in the community, Garrison said.

Financial challenges – Preservation efforts in Arizona were recently complicated after a state-funding source dried up. In 2010, the governor and state Legislature stripped a portion of Arizona’s Heritage Fund that provided $1.5 million in grants for cities to find, preserve, stabilize and rehabilitate buildings and other historic sites. The fund was made up of lottery proceeds approved by voters in 1990.

The Arizona Heritage Alliance and others are working to restore the fund, which is administered by the Arizona State Parks Board. The Arizona Preservation Foundation, a group of volunteer preservation advocates, did not gather enough signatures to get the issue on the November ballot. They plan to get the issue on the ballot in 2014.

As public money for preservation becomes more scarce, some cities have unsuccessfully tried to find private financing. In Goodyear, a years-long effort to restore the Litchfield Train Station is taking a new direction after backers had difficulty raising enough money through raffles and car and train shows. Members of the city’s Centennial Commission decided in May to form a non-profit foundation, said Wally Campbell, a city councilwoman who serves on the board. Supporters hope the foundation will qualify for grants. Someday, foundation officials hope it will be part of a train park for children. “We’re excited about it, but we’re moving forward slowly,” Campbell said. The 1,900-square-foot station was built in the 1920s by the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 2009, the city moved the depot 3 miles from its original location, to an area near the intersection of Cotton Lane and Maricopa 85.

Ever-changing plans – In Buckeye, evolving city plans have frustrated historic-preservation efforts. For years, informal town plans called for turning the Eastman Gin into a museum and downtown gateway to showcase the area’s agricultural heritage. Town officials spent more than $2 million to buy the gin and surrounding property. In the end, renovating the landmark, which was once used to separate cotton from its seeds, was too costly. Demolition is expected to begin in early September. For Garza, it was the latest example of shifting priorities. “It’s hard because Buckeye went through a giant boom, and we had a big influx of people from outside,” he said. “They didn’t necessarily see what we saw in our community, in our history, in our culture.”

Successful saves – Jim McPherson, president of the Arizona Preservation Foundation, says there is greater awareness about the importance of historic preservation in smaller cities. Officials and the public are more focused on sustainability and adapting buildings to be reused, he said. Old Main, a 90-year-old vacant building on Peoria High’s campus, will be saved. About $1.6 million will be spent to save the building.

Phoenix has used bond money to renovate many historic structures, McPherson said.

And earlier this month, Litchfield Park struck a deal with the school district that will ensure the protection of a mission-style church built in the early 1920s. Unfortunately, some historic sites in small towns can’t be saved, McPherson said. “We hurt every time that happens because that’s one more strike against our heritage in a state that’s relatively new,” McPherson said.

Arizona’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) is now ready for Review by the Public

(Phoenix, Arizona – September 10, 2012) – The Arizona State Parks department is responsible for writing Arizona’s Statewide Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) every five years. This plan sets the evaluation criteria to allocate the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grants, along with other applicable grant programs consistent with the state’s outdoor recreation priorities as identified by public participants in the research. This policy plan is now available online in a draft format for public review at AZStateParks.com/SCORP and will be available for comment through October 7, 2012. The final plan will be implemented starting January 1, 2013.

Citizens interested in outdoor recreation in Arizona have participated with State Parks staff in the collection of recreation data since last May to build this first draft of the 2012 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP). For more than 47 years, this offshore oil and gas leasing revenue fund, passed by Congress in 1965, has been used to plan, develop and expand outdoor recreation throughout America.

Arizona has received $60 million dollars from this fund toward the enhancement of outdoor recreation for Arizona communities and those monies were distributed through 728 grants administered by State Parks.

Arizona State Parks is committed to preparing a highly integrated outdoor recreation system for the future. This plan balances the recreational use and protection of natural and cultural resources. It also strengthens the awareness of the public between outdoor recreation with health benefits while also producing opportunities to enhance the economies and quality of life for residents. Recreation managers of cities, counties, the state and Federal government organizations in Arizona use this information for more specific recreation planning and budgeting. The plan also offers leadership opportunities to make decisions about the State’s enhancement of outdoor recreation sites, programs and infrastructure.

2013 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP)

The 2013 SCORP Planning Process

Arizona State Parks is responsible for completing a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) every five years. The 2008 SCORP was a comprehensive report that included partnering with Arizona State University to conduct a statewide telephone survey of households. The 2013 SCORP is a targeted update to the 2008 SCORP to address the unique changes and challenges of the past five years.

Oversight, direction and input for the SCORP 2013 comes from a SCORP Work Group consisting of outdoor recreation professionals from a variety of organizations across the state. As part of the 2013 SCORP two online surveys were available beginning May 1, 2013 through May 31, 2012, one for Outdoor Recreation Providers, another to members of the public who had signed up for outdoor recreation agency list serves, email lists, newsletters and other constituents. In addition, a press release was sent out about the public survey, and the information was also made available on websites for those who were looking for outdoor recreation opportunities in Arizona on multiple agencies’ websites.

Tell us what you think!

This updated draft report contains a review of research related to outdoor recreation trends and issues, survey results from both the Outdoor Recreation Providers and Involved Recreation User surveys, indicating their opinions, preferences and outdoor recreation needs. Survey results are used to identify changes in outdoor recreation experiences during the last five years, and to identify primary outdoor recreation issues that need to be addressed statewide. This will enable public land agencies to improve your outdoor recreation experience by allocating scarce resources to issues that are most important to you. We would love to hear what you think. Please look at the document and send us your comments! Comments are due by October 7, 2012.

Download 2013 SCORP Draft Plan Document  (PDF Document3 MB PDF)

Download 2013 SCORP Draft Plan Supplement: Tourism & Outdoor Recreation (PDF Document400 KB PDF)

Download 2013 SCORP Draft Plan: Appendices & High Resolution Maps (33 MB PDF)

Submit Comments By Email
If, after reviewing the document you would like to submit public comments, or suggestions to be incorporated into the final SCORP document you can email feedback to: SCORP2013@azstateparks.gov

Submit Comments By Mail
If you would rather submit your comments or suggestions via mail, please send feedback to:
Arizona State Parks
ATTN: SCORP
1300 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007

If you would like Arizona State Parks staff to send you a paper copy of the draft plan to review, you can call (602) 542-4174 to request a copy. The Final 2013 SCORP will be available in January 2013.