Effort To Restore Heritage Fund Dead for the 2013 Session

[Source: Kyle Mittan, Tucson Weekly] – It looks as if the chance to restore Heritage Fund dollars to state parks and transit services is dead for the year.

But Tucson Rep. Ethan Orr said he would continue to work to restoring the Heritage Fund, despite the House Appropriations Committee’s recent decision to not hear House Bill 2594. Orr, as the bill’s primary sponsor, had wanted to restore the Heritage Fund dollars that were eliminated in 2010 as part of a budget-balancing package. His bill would have directed $10 million in lottery funds to the Heritage Fund, as well as $9 million in lottery funds to local transportation.

Although the bill failed to get past the Appropriations Committee, Orr said he planned to bring the bill back next year. Orr added that he has had a close working relationship with Arizona State Parks Executive Director Bryan Martyn, who also has an “excellent 20-year vision” for the maintenance and preservation of Arizona’s state parks.

Orr said that the state parks are important on a number of levels, specifically in terms of state economics and preserving the history of Arizona. “Strictly from an economical standpoint, they’re key drivers for our rural communities,” he said. “And they’re part of our heritage; they’re part of celebrating what’s beautiful in Arizona.”

Advocates work toward completion of Prescott Circle Trail

[Source: Cindy Barks, The Daily Courier] – What started as a modest trails effort around local equestrian Jan Alfano’s dining-room table more than 20 years ago appeared to gain steam this week toward its possible finishing point. Although no decisions occurred on Tuesday, members of the Prescott City Council appeared receptive to a proposal to use about $120,000 of streets/open space sales tax revenue to lease about 6.6 miles of trail easements over Arizona State Trust Land.

The goal: a major step toward completion of the 50-mile Prescott Circle Trail.

Alfano, a founder and mainstay of the Yavapi Trails Association, was on hand Tuesday to introduce a video, “Circle of Cooperation” that includes pitches from a number of local trails advocates. “This has been a collaborative effort that’s just unbelievable,” Alfano told the council.

Prescott Trails Specialist Chris Hosking noted afterward that while the bulk of the completed Circle Trail runs across U.S. Forest Service land, sections of it also cross Bureau of Land Management land, City of Prescott land, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University land. Other entities also been have instrumental in the progress, Alfano said. For instance, she brought up the cooperation off the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the “untold hours of hard, hard work of the Over the Hill Gang (volunteer trail builders).”

The fledgling Yavapai Trails Association came up with the idea for the Prescott Circle Trail in the early 1990s, Alfano said, recalling meetings of about five people “tossing ideas around” at her Williamson Valley home. In 1993, the effort received a $9,000 Heritage Fund grant from the state to complete the first section of the circle – the 2.75-mile Turley Trail in the Government Canyon area. Several of the trails advocates on the video mentioned the tourism potential that would come with the completion of the Circle Trail. They predicted that hikers, cyclists and equestrians would travel to Prescott for the challenge of completing the 50-mile loop. Prescott Parks and Recreation Director Joe Baynes explained that a “pre-appraisal” has already taken place on the state-land easements.

A meeting between city and state officials took place in January, Baynes said, and the city’s application to the Arizona State Land Department is already in the process. Meanwhile, the $120,000 city expenditure likely would go to the City Council for a decision in about August, City Manager Craig McConnell said. “This (week’s) presentation is viewed as an introduction,” McConnell told the council.

In the preliminary 2012-13 budget, the city has allocated $500,000 toward open space acquisitions. City Attorney Gary Kidd said the city could use its open space money for the trail easement lease. “The money is there,” McConnell said. Council reaction to the idea was positive this week.

“The ball is bouncing; let’s keep it bouncing,” Councilman Steve Blair said. “The public needs to understand there is an economic benefit to the community, and it does pay for itself.” The 6.6-mile segment would run from the “P” Mountain area to the Peavine Trail area. The new stretch would connect to completed sections of the Circle Trail, which take in picturesque areas, such as Thumb Butte, Granite Mountain, and Quartz Mountain.

If the City Council approves the State Land leases, Baynes said volunteers and parks employees could have the trails built within about 10 months to a year.That would leave about a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of unfinished Circle Trail through private ranchland west of Williamson Valley Road, near the Pioneer Parkway intersection, Baynes said.

George Sheats of the Over the Hill Gang said the Yavapai Trails Association and the Open Space Alliance plan to conduct a public meeting on the project 7 p.m. June 13 at the Founders Suite of the Prescott Public Library, 215 E. Goodwin St.

Misconception hurts state parks

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] – The struggling state park system isn’t suddenly and magically awash in cash. But there’s a pernicious misconception that it is because the Arizona State Parks Board approved more than $40 million in grants for two cities to buy state trust land. This is not park money.

The board happens to be, under the terms of a voter-approved referendum, the gatekeeper for funding to preserve trust land. The parks don’t get one penny.

It’s a lot like the state treasurer. The office manages billions of dollars a year. But that doesn’t turn Treasurer Doug Ducey and his staff into billionaires.

This kind of misunderstanding – whether willful or careless – may be one reason legislators have so blithely undermined Arizona State Parks. They cut off all state support in 2009. Since then, they’ve reached right into the till, diverting money that the parks themselves earn through entrance fees and concessions. This is not only wrong but also profoundly disingenuous from legislators who want agencies to act more like businesses.

As Arizona heads into yet another challenging year for the state budget, we can’t make smart decisions without looking at the numbers in context. All dollars aren’t the same. Some funding has legal constraints. Some spending has broader benefits beyond the immediate budget line.

Take that $40 million. It’s from the Growing Smarter fund, which voters approved in 1998. The ballot measure required the state to put aside $220 million, over the course of 11 years, to be used as matching money to preserve state trust land. (Trust land cannot be set aside for conservation outright but must be bought or leased.) Scottsdale just got approval for a $36.2 million grant to help expand its mountain preserve.Phoenixis getting $4.18 million to put toward buying land for the Sonoran Preserve.

Given the well-established value of open space – from tourist appeal to recreation to wildlife habitat – those are farsighted moves that will benefit all Arizonans in the long run.

It gets better. The dollars actually do double duty, helping Arizona schools, as well. Money from the sale of trust land is put into a permanent fund, with the interest going to education and a few other public purposes. Because of the matching requirements, the Growing Smarter grants will end up putting more than $80 million into the permanent fund. The story is far more complex than a single figure on a balance sheet.

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].