Cities and towns are vital to Arizona’s economic recovery

[Source: Arizona Capitol Time.com, Guest Opinion, 2/10/12] – While Arizona has endured one of longest and deepest recessions in American history, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns has stepped forward to be a strong partner with Gov. Jan Brewer and state lawmakers as they sought solutions to reverse our fiscal crisis. Arizona’s 91 cities and towns cut their spending by nearly 30 percent on average. We have responded to this crisis by doing more with less.

Now that our state’s economy is starting to emerge and grow again, cities, large and small, will be absolutely vital to Arizona’s economic recovery and future prosperity. From Tucson to Phoenix to rural towns like Clarkdale — where I’m proud to serve as mayor — Arizona cities and towns have provided healthy economic environments that generate 93 percent of all state sales tax revenues. That business-friendly climate helps drive Arizona forward.

Those dollars enable families to enjoy the most efficient and directly accessible services provided by government — like police and fire protection, safe roads, clean water, parks, senior centers, pools and reliable garbage collection. It sounds like a cliché, but only because it’s true — healthy cities make a healthy Arizona.

The good news is our cities and towns are well positioned to do the heavy lifting. Our state, especially in rural Arizona, is open for business and creating jobs. But we must be careful not to impede our recovery by limiting local control or hurting the quality of life that makes Arizona so attractive to entrepreneurs. Local elected leaders stand on the front lines of business recruitment efforts, and they help create the healthy and profitable business environments that attract new employers. For example, if you search for “Payson economic development” on the Internet, you are directed to the town’s website.

I am excited that both House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Steve Pierce represent rural Arizona. I trust they understand, like I do, that imposing unfunded mandates only hurt our ability to attract and retain high quality jobs. In fact, unnecessary mandates only make us spend taxpayer money on things that don’t benefit the public’s quality of life. The best decisions are the ones made at the local level in response to residents and taxpayers. We deliver the daily services that people count on every day.

Since 1937, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns has stood for the principle that local government is the most efficient, most responsive and most economical way to provide services to our residents. We have never wavered from those principles in good times or bad.

So, as the Legislature goes back to work, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns once again stands ready to partner with our state lawmakers to preserve and protect what matters most to residents in our cities and towns. If we work together, I’m confident we can make this happen.

— Doug Von Gausig is mayor of Clarkdale and president of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

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.”