Parks board still dreams of the future

[Source: Payson Roundup, Peter Aleshire, 7-20-2010] – Get through the beating. But don’t stop dreaming.

That could serve as the motto of the Arizona State Parks system, reflected recently at a rare retreat and strategy session that brought the board to one of its most endangered treasures: Tonto Natural Bridge. The state parks board finds itself in the position of a scrawny kid getting punched out by a bully after his lunch money. The system is bruised, bloody and curled into the fetal position — but still making plans for college.

The world’s largest natural travertine arch formed an apt setting for the discussion, since the park system’s partnership with Payson to keep the Rim Country’s best known tourist attraction open served as a model to save other parks. As a result of the last-minute rescues by Payson and other counties and towns, the state parks board approved agreements to keep most of the sites in the 28-park system open — despite drastic reductions in its budget. [to read the full article click here].

New lot to give Phoenix’s South Mountain hikers more parking

[Source: Cathryn Creno, Arizona Republic 11-10-2009] – The number of parking spaces at the Telegraph Pass entrance to South Mountain Park  will more than double – to 83 spaces – by the end of this month. Both hikers and residents who live near Telegraph Pass, just off of Desert Foothills Parkway and 6th Street in the Ahwatukee Foothills, have long complained that the lot’s current 39 spaces don’t come close to handing the flood of daily visitors to the park.

Hikers have complained about having to circle the lot until spaces come open. Residents gripe that their streets sometimes fill up with cars belonging to hikers who get tired of waiting for parking spaces [to read the full article click here].

Arizona State Parks unfreezes grants; funding allows 53 projects to resume

[Source: Arizona Republic, Amy B. Wang, 10-04-2009] — The budget-beleaguered Arizona State Parks office recently released more than $6.1 million in Heritage Fund grants to benefit historic-preservation projects, trail maintenance, and local and regional parks.  In total, 53 projects around Arizona can move forward with the release of grant money that had been frozen for more than six months, the result of state budget woes that had trickled down to the parks department.  “We are extremely happy to release funding for these very worthy trails, historic preservation and park projects,” said Renée Bahl, executive director of the parks, in a statement.  Twenty-two other projects that had been due to receive Heritage Fund grants were canceled.

The Heritage Fund, created by voters in 1990, is funded by Arizona Lottery sales.  Up to $10 million in proceeds are designated annually for the conservation of the state’s wildlife and natural areas.  The State Parks Board appropriates the money to projects each year.  In February, the department’s grim financial situation forced the board to freeze all grant money.  “It was frozen because we didn’t know that we’d have enough money to operate the agency,” said parks spokeswoman Ellen Bilbrey, citing layoffs that could have affected the staff that worked with distributing the funds. [Note: To read the full story, click here.]

Newsweek magazine covers Arizona State Parks mess

[Source: Jessica Ramirez, Newsweek Magazine] — Ken Travous has spent the past month trying to get out of the red.  During a meeting with Arizona State Parks Board members Feb. 3, Travous, who serves as parks director, explained that statewide budget cuts would mean he’d have to close up to 11 state parks. The board naturally wanted to avoid such drastic measures and asked him to come back with “more options” for cutting $27 million.

Unfortunately, the options aren’t necessarily better.  Shutting down the parks would mean closing some of the oldest public lands in the state, a loss of about 31 jobs and roughly $50 million dollars in economic impact to the state. Plan B would mean asking employees to take furloughs, laying off up to 40 park workers, and cutting about $12 million in funds for community projects like local parks, trail developments, and historic preservation.  Without that funding, landscapers, carpenters, and plumbers hired by these communities would be out of work.  It’s this choice that made him feel like he’d been punched in the stomach every time he sits down at his desk.  “I have spent the last 23 years as the director of this state park system, building it up,” he says.  “Now I see it crumbling beneath my feet, and it makes me sick.”   [Note: To read the full article, click here.]