Symposium to highlight Arizona’s unique trails to international audience

[Source: Brandon Quester, Cronkite News, 11/14/2011] Arizona will host the first-ever international trails symposium in 2013, highlighting the state’s unique trail systems and promoting outdoor tourism. At least 700 people are expected to attend the conference organized by American Trails, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to trail interests ranging from hiking and mountain biking to snowmobiling and off-road driving.

“Arizona and the Southwest is one of the very special places when viewed from people around the world,” said Robert Searns, board chairman for the trail group. “There are just great opportunities and examples that have been accomplished in Arizona. It’s a great outdoor recreation state.”

With over 37 million people visiting Arizona each year, the conference can bring international attention to the state’s vast trail systems, according to Ellen Bilbrey, spokeswoman for Arizona State Parks. “That’s what Arizona is known for – all these phenomenal experiences on trails,” she said. “The more we get people to learn about the trail systems within the state, the more people will come and the better for the economy.” With Arizona having roughly 800 trails spanning more than 5,000 miles, Bilbrey said this is exactly the type of audience the state is trying to attract.

Searns said he hopes that many of those attending the conference will come from foreign countries. “We’ve had a lot of interest from people around the world and what American trails offer,” he said. Previous conferences, held every other year, have catered to a U.S. audience. One was held in Tucson in 1998. He called the Arizona landscape iconic to the U.S. and said trails here will help create a dialogue among those in the industry looking to expand trail systems in their own states and nations.

Searns said the conference, which will be held at the Yavapai Nation’s Radisson Fort McDowell in Fountain Hills, is a chance for people in the trail industry to not only gain an educational experience about American trails but also network with those on the cutting edge of trail design and architecture in urban environments. But this education also extends to more open areas like sections of the nearly completed Arizona Trail, which spans 800 miles from Mexico to Utah and is expected to be finalized before the year is through.

According to Kiva Couchon, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Office of Tourism, 9 percent of the state’s 2010 domestic visitation came for outdoor recreation. “It’s a huge component to our overall tourism efforts,” Couchon said. “This is a big deal for Arizona. Our agency benefits from all this because it’s just another great way to promote tourism in the state.”

General facts:
• There are 800 trails spanning more than 5,000 miles throughout Arizona.
• In September 2011, National Geographic listed Phoenix as one of the top 15 U.S. cities for hiking.
• Arizona’s trail systems span seven land management agencies and include multiple use experiences ranging from hiking and horseback riding to paddling and snowmobiling.
• Arizona is home to the largest municipal park in the U.S., South Mountain Park/Preserve, with 16,000 acres and 51 miles of trails

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park improvement wanted

[Source; Ginger Rough, the Arizona Republic] –The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, with its spectacular views and dramatic sight lines, routinely draws more than 60,000 tourists every year. But most of those visitors only stay a few hours. Now, Arizona State Parks is hoping to change that – possibly by partnering with a private firm to operate a small hotel or a restaurant at the Payson-area site. “The lodge that is up there has never really been open to the public – it’s a potential asset that has never been used,” said Jay Ziemann, assistant director of Arizona State Parks. “But there’s a lot of potential to broaden the market to those that might like to come up, visit and stay there.”

Tonto Natural Bridge, about 14 miles northwest of Payson, is one of the state’s newer parks, added to the system in 1990. At its heart is the bridge, believed to be the largest natural travertine trestle in the world. It stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. Tourists come to the park to camp, hike and explore the area’s trails and waterfall. But facilities at the site are somewhat limited and include only a gift shop, some picnic-table areas and a few portable restrooms.

The park’s historic Tonto Lodge was built in the 1920s. The state purchased it along with the park and has just finished bringing it up to code – installing fire-suppression systems and making sure it has adequate sewer and drinking-water systems. The lodge features 10 upstairs bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms.

The state, which has limited money and manpower, is hoping the private sector will give it guidance on how to structure a formal partnership agreement that might ultimately result in the lodge being opened to the public. Last month, the parks department had a meeting with potential partners, and they have now put out a formal “request for information.” It’s a slightly unusual step. Arizona State Parks is hoping that by asking the private sector what they might be interested in doing, they can structure a better request for a proposal that will ultimately result in a solid plan and successful partnership. Ziemann said the state is hoping to get information back from private operators before the end of this month.

Parks officials will then issue a formal request for proposals based on the feedback they receive. “We’ve offered (requests for proposals) in the past, and we haven’t gotten very much in the way of responses,” he said. “We are hoping that if we find out exactly what they might be interested in bidding on, we’ll have better luck.” Options could include building individual cabins with private baths to expand the lodge’s capacity and make it more attractive for overnight guests, as well as running a small cafe at the main property. Recent visitor surveys by the parks department found that 57 percent of people touring the park said they would be interested in using a restaurant or a snack bar.

Arizona State Parks has increasingly turned to public-private partnerships to keep its network of 30 parks open in the wake of years of budget cuts. Tonto Natural Bridge is no exception. A wide range of community partners – including Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, the city of Payson and the town of Star Valley – raised money through bake sales and other similar means last year to give State Parks more than $10,000 in operating funds for the site.

The park is a critical part of the local economy, said John Stanton, vice president of Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. The most recent study available, by the Arizona Hospitality Research & Resource Center at Northern Arizona University, found that the park had a $3.56 million economic impact in fiscal 2007. “Financially, up here, we are driven by tourism,” he said.

Derek Shreiner, president of Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge, said his organization welcomes any efforts to enhance the Lodge’s operations – especially if it keeps visitors in the park longer. “For as long as I’ve been involved, it’s been day use only,” Shreiner said. “It’s significant to us. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

Just a few examples of what Heritage Fund has done for Florence

[Source: Bonnie Bariola, TriValleyCentral.com] – For those of you who do not remember, it is thanks to the town of Florence that many of the historic buildings on Main Street have been saved over the years. Through a voter initiative, in 1990 the Heritage Fund was approved by the voters of Arizona. Among other things, this fund provided $1.7 million a year toward historic preservation through a competitive grant process.

Prior to approval of the Heritage Fund, Florence’s Historic District Advisory Commission had been approached by a member of the local Knights of Columbus asking if the Commission supported the rehabilitation of the Chapel of the Gila. The Commission wholeheartedly supported this effort.

Upon receiving the initial criteria for applying for a Heritage Fund, the town’s Community Development Director determined the rehabilitation of the Chapel of the Gila would be a perfect fit. The Knight’s of Columbus member was contacted and the result was a public/private partnership between the town and the Diocese submitting an application — the town prepared and administered the grant and the Diocese provided the matching funds.

The fact that the grant application for the historic Chapel of the Gila ranked first in the first round of Historic Preservation Heritage Fund Grant applications should be mentioned. It should also be noted that before construction began, due to extreme rainfall in the spring, the east wall of the chapel collapsed. Since funding was in place it was possible to save the building; otherwise, it would have been necessary to demolish the entire building. The chapel is always one of the most visited buildings on the annual Tour of Historic Florence.

Clarke House: The William Clarke House has been saved due to the efforts of several organizations and people. Lois Stryker headed a group which put a roof on it prior to the town submitting the first Heritage Fund grant for it’s rehabilitation. Donovan Kramer Sr. then agreed to assume ownership of the property and provide the match for the grant, and the nonprofit Florence Preservation Foundation (FPF) volunteered to assume the administration of the grant. After several additional Heritage Fund Grants and many, many thousands of dollars from Mr. Kramer, this very important building on Main Street is now home to the Florence Reminder and Blade Tribune.

Silver King Hotel:
 Only with the Heritage Fund, the town of Florence, and the Florence Preservation Foundation are the people of Florence able to have the Florence/Silver King Marketplace as one of the most important buildings on Main Street today. In addition to Heritage Fund Grants and donations, it was necessary to find additional funding for this massive project. Transportation Enhancement Funds could be used for Historic Preservation but were only available to government entities. To obtain funding from this source, the FPF partnered with the town of Florence to obtain these funds. Over the years the Florence Preservation Foundation members prepared two separate applications totaling one million dollars with Town Council members approving these applications being submitted.

Each of these $500,000 grants required a $30,000 match. The town of Florence provided the match for the first grant with economic development monies it had received from the State of Arizona. A Heritage Fund grant written and submitted by the FPF provided match for the second $500,000.

McFarland Park: More recently the town assumed operation of McFarland Historic Park in order to have an additional tourist attraction for both visitors and local residents. State Parks used a portion of the Heritage Funds allocated to them to rehabilitate the building that houses the Park. Once that was completed in 2009, Jay Ream, Assistant Director of Arizona State Parks was asked what the plans for McFarland Park were.His reply was “Due to the extreme budget cuts to the parks system, the only use for McFarland is to lease it for an adaptive reuse.” This message was relayed to Town Manager Himanshu Patel, resulting in the Town Council approving a lease between the town and Arizona State Parks.

The Florence Main Street Board agreed to operate the park in addition to already operating the Florence Visitor Center. Again, after Heritage Funds made possible the rehabilitation of the building, due to a partnership between Arizona State Parks, the town of Florence and the Main Street Program, yet another building on Main Street is open to the public.

In 2010 when the Historic Preservation portion of the Heritage Fund was suspended by the Legislature, Florence had a total of five grants valued at $650,000 which were canceled or suspended. With the required matching funds, 1.3 million dollars would have been added to the local economy and five additional historic properties would have been saved.

Won’t you please contact the governor and your legislators and ask them to reinstate the Heritage Fund.

Push to protect Arizona’s parks from budget cuts gains steam

[Source: Shaun McKinnon, AZ Republic, Page 1] –  Arizonans overwhelmingly support state parks and open spaces and believe such areas contribute to a region’s economic health, but few people understand how the state pays for its parks, a new survey says. That lack of knowledge could imperil a parks system already weakened by budget cuts if lawmakers don’t hear from enough voters who want open spaces protected, according to Arizona Forward, a newly organized group that commissioned the survey.

“Nothing is stronger than grass roots, with people calling their elected officials saying, ‘This is important to me, I want my parks to be open,’ ” said Diane Brossart, acting director of the group. “But I think we take these things for granted, and until there’s a crisis, people are not engaged with the issues.” [to read the full article click here].