Love Arizona parks? Then get out there and use them

635528131686761919-VerdeKayak-CVR[Arizona Republic Editorial board, December 8, 2014] – There’s a big difference between idealizing a faraway river and feeling the current beneath your boat. That distinction matters to Arizona’s state parks, and the Arizona State Parks Foundation understands why.

When city folks express support for the state parks, it represents a casual friendship. When people get out there and experience the real thing, it leads to a committed, long-term relationship — a relationship worth working to preserve and enrich.

“The more people we get into the parks, the more people will be actively interested in the parks,” says Bill Meek, president of the parks foundation board. “We need to get people out there experiencing what we’ve got.”

An engaged constituency is essential because politicians have not been good to the parks. Funding was stripped during the recession, and the current budget deficit may lead to more pain.

Lack of funding translates into at least $80 million in capital needs at the 31 natural, historic and archaeological sites that make up the state parks system. In addition to funding to keep the sites safe and well maintained, more than $200 million in capital projects have been requested to provide better experiences for visitors.

The problem is not a lack of public support. Over the years, Arizonans have shown continued support for parks in polls, through surveys and at the ballot box. In 1990, they approved the Heritage Fund, which targeted $10 million annually to the parks from Lottery revenues.

The problem is lack of public engagement. Consider this: Lawmakers stripped Heritage funding from the parks during the Great Recession while letting it continue to flow to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Hunters and anglers form a strong and active constituency. Lawmakers didn’t ignore them.

The constituency for state parks is much broader and less actively engaged politically.

Enter an idea that could help raise money and public consciousness on behalf of these state treasures.

Verde River kayak tours run by the Verde River Institute and the parks foundation include a guide to interpret the flora and fauna, as well as stops at local communities and a tasting session at a winery cooperative.

The $200 fee includes a $115 donation to the parks foundation. Tours this fall brought in about $5,000, which will become seed money to develop a business plan to expand the tours, parks foundation Executive Director Cristie Statler told The Arizona Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl.

Meek says if the tours are expanded, they could develop a funding stream that lawmakers could not sweep. He says parks systems around the country are using “social enterprise,” an idea that uses commercial strategies to benefit human or environmental needs. That’s the kind of creative thinking our parks need in these tough budget times.

But that’s not all.

Giving people a hands-on experience with resources they had not previously touched deepens their understanding and appreciation. It builds deep commitment. That makes them more likely to “take action and talk to their legislators,” says Doug Von Gausig, director of the Verde River Institute. He leads the river tours.

The more opportunities people have to experience the state parks, the more committed Arizonans will be to speak up for these amazing places.

Source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/editorial/2014/12/07/state-parks-benefit-engaged-constituency/20058401/

7 ways to pay for great state parks

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] – The ominous clouds hanging over Arizona State Parks need to start raining money. Parks managers struggle to protect valuable resources with no money from the General Fund. Unique remnants of Arizona’s heritage have lost dedicated money streams meant to protect them.

At risk are playgrounds for urban Arizonans and sources of tourism for rural residents. At stake is the chance for your children and grandchildren to travel through time from cave formations that began 200,000 years ago to prehistoric Indian ruins to a Spanish presidio to a territorial prison — and wrap it all up by waterskiing across a man-made lake.

What’s at stake is something irreplaceable and beloved. “It’s time people got their dander up and told the Legislature this is one thing that touches their lives,” says Ken Travous, former executive director of Arizona State Parks.

Here’s what people should tell lawmakers:

Restore the State Parks share of the Heritage Fund. In 1990, voters approved $10 million a year from Lottery revenues for parks. During the recession, lawmakers took that funding. Several attempts to restore it have failed at the Legislature. It’s past time to give it back.

Restore the authority of State Parks to spend money raised from gate fees, gift shops and other money-making enterprises. Park managers used to put increased revenue to work for the parks. Now they need legislative authorization to spend the money the parks make. Beginning in 2003, that enhancement fund was swept by lawmakers and used to supplant General Fund appropriations.

Encourage innovation and resource development through parks’ concessions and development. Parks Director Bryan Martyn is looking at a plan to contract with a single concessionaire for all the state parks. It could result in more investment in the parks if the private contractor serving big money-makers, such as Lake Havasu, also is required to develop resources in less-visited parks. The State Parks Board needs to carefully scrutinize any contract to make sure it serves the public’s best interest.

Recognize the need to create additional sources of permanent dedicated funding. A 2009 Morrison Institute report put the cost of operating and maintaining the parks at $40 million to $44 million a year. The current budget is half that. In addition, the parks have at least $80 million in capital needs. The idea of a surcharge or voluntary donation on vehicle registration has been floated — and rejected by lawmakers — since 2009. It is a painless way for people to add $5 or $10 every year to benefit state parks.

Dedicated means dedicated. Protect funds that benefit the parks from legislative raids or sweeps.

Restore the authority of the State Parks Board to hire and fire the parks director. That position became a political appointee with 2012 changes in the state personnel system. The director now serves at the pleasure of the governor. The parks board lost clout. The director lost the independence of being insulated from a governor’s whims.

Face facts. “No state parks system in the United States pays for itself from earned revenue,” according to the Morrison Institute report, “The Price of Stewardship: The Future of Arizona’s State Parks.” Parks need more than they get from Arizona’s Legislature. They deserve more.

Arizonans demonstrated their support by establishing the Heritage Fund in 1990, and they reiterated that sentiment nearly two decades later when a Gallup Arizona poll released by the Center for the Future of Arizona found that “the state’s natural beauty and open spaces are seen by citizens as our greatest asset.”

It’s time to stop stiffing state parks.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO

Arizona State Parks are a resource for today and a promise for tomorrow. But short-sighted funding decisions imperil their future. You can help change that.

  • VISIT. Arizona’s state parks offer dazzling natural wonders, family recreational activities and authentic windows into Arizona’s history and prehistory. azstateparks.com
  • BE A CHAMPION. There’s an election coming up. Ask candidates for state office how they plan to support Arizona’s parks and let them know you want this to be a priority issue.
  • GET INVOLVED. More than a dozen parks have volunteer “friends” groups that provide fund-raising and other services for their chosen park. For information on joining or starting one: azstateparks.com/volunteer/v_foundation.html

Arizona State Parks Foundation is a non-profit that engages in advocacy, fund-raising, and other support. Visit their website at arizonastateparksfoundation.org  The Arizona Heritage Alliance is a non-profit that promotes and protects the Heritage Fund and its goals: azheritage.org

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ABOUT THIS SERIES

Arizona State Parks are a valuable resource in great peril. Stripped of funding during the recession, they struggle without state money and stagger under deferred maintenance. Yet they offer open spaces and outdoor recreation for a growing urban population and an economic engine for rural communities. Popular with the public, but lacking political support, funding solutions can help the parks deliver on their remarkable potential.

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

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.