Arizona State Parks, a promising new beginning

Source:  William C. Thornton Special to the Arizona Daily Star – February 21, 2019

Arizona’s legions of outdoor enthusiasts can all breathe a little easier. Sue Black’s tumultuous reign is over and there’s a strong steady hand on the tiller at Arizona State Parks and Trails. Bob Broschied came home to Arizona after serving five years as Executive Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper described Bob as “an incredible leader with strong vision”. We’ve turned the page, but there’s an important lesson to be learned from the Sue Black era. With the job of Parks Director comes the awesome responsibility of managing natural and cultural resources for present and future generations. We must never again allow revenue generation to take priority over stewardship of the resource.

There’s more good news. The current legislative session offers the best opportunity in ten years to Restore the Parks Heritage Fund. The Arizona Parks Heritage Fund may be the best investment of lottery dollars many Arizonans never heard of. Enacted by voters in 1990, the Heritage Fund directed $20 million to be divided equally each year between State Parks and Game and Fish. Heritage fund grants often served as seed money for matching funds from other sources. Total yearly investment was typically more than double the direct $10 million appropriation.

Parks grants have built and improved trails, campgrounds, picnic facilities, boat docks and ramps. Historical restoration grants have helped preserve important parts of our rich cultural heritage including Flagstaff’s Riordan Mansion, Yuma’s Territorial Prison, and Tucson’s Mission San Xavier del Bac. Every community in our state has benefited from Parks Heritage Fund grants.

Heritage funded improvements to parks and historic sites helped attract 3.2 million visitors, about half from out of state, in 2018. That’s more than double the combined home game attendance of the Arizona Cardinals, ASU Sun Devils, and UA Wildcats. State Park visitors generate more than $300 million in economic activity each year in the mostly rural host communities. In response to the economic downturn and decline in tax revenue the legislature swept the remaining balance of the Parks Heritage Fund into the general fund and inexplicably eliminated the fund in 2011.

SB1241 – Restoring the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund

Dear Friends of the Heritage Fund

I’m excited to let you know that a bipartisan group of Arizona state senators has introduced Senate Bill 1241 (“SB1241”) to restore the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund (“Fund”).  Senators Brophy McGee, Boyer, Carter, Kerr, Navarrete, Otondo and Pratt have introduced SB 1241 – state parks board: heritage fund– for restoring the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund.

The bill has been assigned to the Natural Resources and Energy Committeeand is on the agenda to be heard this Wednesday, February 6 at 2:00 p.m. in SR109.  Here is a one page summary of SB1241 for your reference.

We request that you please submit your position through the Legislature’s “Request to Speak (RTS)” system. If you don’t have an account for the Legislature’s Request To Speak System, please link here for detailed instructions. In the meantime, please call or email the following legislators and let them know you want them to SUPPORT SB 1241.  

State SenatorPhoneEmail
Sylvia Allen602-926-5409sallen@azleg.gov
Andrea Dalessandro602-926-5342         adalessandro@azleg.gov
David Gowan602-926-5154         dgowan@azleg.gov
Sine Kerr, Vice Chair602-926-5955         skerr@azleg.gov
Juan Mendez602-926-4124          jmendez@azleg.gov
Jamescita Peshlakai             602-926-5160    jpeshlakai@azleg.gov
Frank Pratt, Chair602-926-5761         fpratt@azleg.gov

From the time Arizona voters approved the creation of the Fund to the Great Recession when it was defunded and removed from statute, the Fund served our state well with its dedication to parks, outdoor recreation, open space, non-motorized trails, outdoor and environmental education, and historic preservation. It is our hope that this Legislature restores the Fund after satisfying all other current encumbrances, and to bring the Fund back to effect in a responsible and deliberate manner.

Why the Fund is important. Arizona’s local, regional, and state parks and recreation facilities are economic development generators that encourage the spending of tourist dollars, attract businesses whose workforce choose jobs in locations with quality of life benefits, strengthen community cohesion, and increase property values. Historic preservation initiatives in our rural communities and urban areas promote economic development by creating jobs, revitalizing historic areas, increasing property values, and promoting heritage tourism.

Thank you for all the work you do to improve our state’s quality of life and to support the reinstatement of the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us at mail@azheritage.org or call 602-528-7500.

Janice Miano
President, Board of Directors
The Arizona Heritage Alliance
azheritage.org

Arizona state parks projects are under review after director’s firing


Associated PressPublished 4:35 p.m. MT Dec. 16, 2018

Homolovi State Park

(Photo: Winslow Chamber of Commerce)

Plans to expand and improve Arizona’s state parks system are under review as key projects face delays and cost increases.

The projects are drawing new scrutiny in the wake of complaints that led to the ouster of Arizona State Parks and Trails director Sue Black. The agency’s current leadership is reviewing all projects to determine their viability and to ensure all permits and clearances are secured properly, interim director Ted Vogt wrote in a Nov. 30 report to a legislative oversight committee.

The committee is scheduled to review the park projects Tuesday.

Vogt was appointed to head the agency in November after Gov. Doug Ducey fired Black following numerous complaints, including ones by former staffers who said potential archaeological sites were bulldozed to rush development of rental cabins and other improvements.

Only 25 of the 100 cabins planned for various parks through lease-purchase agreements have been installed yet the project’s $1.6 million budget is nearly expended, the report said.

This photo from state Parks documents shows land at Havasu Riviera State Park that was bulldozed. Former Parks archaeologist Will Russell said the state agency might not have followed protocol in determining if archaeological sites were disturbed.

This photo from state Parks documents shows land at Havasu Riviera State Park that was bulldozed. Former Parks archaeologist Will Russell said the state agency might not have followed protocol in determining if archaeological sites were disturbed. (Photo: Arizona State Parks Department)

In a Dec. 11 briefing memo that accompanied the report, legislative budget analysts wrote the shortfall in cabin development was “due to higher-than-expected site preparation costs.” The parks system’s report said the agency is evaluating the cabin project scope based on its recent experience installing the cabins at Lost Dutchman, Patagonia and Lake Havasu parks.

Meanwhile, the planned $4 million development of a new rustic camping park known as Rockin’ River Ranch along the Verde River in Yavapai County is lagging. Parks officials said they can’t accurately determine a construction schedule until completion of designs and, before those, a cultural resource assessment of the property. 

Elsewhere, plans given an informal go-ahead by lawmakers in 2016 to redevelop camping sites and recreational vehicle stations at Cattail Cove State Park on Lake Havasu along the Colorado River at a cost of $5.3 million are in a holding pattern as parks officials develop the project’s master plan.

The parks report states the scopes of numerous other improvement and repair projects throughout the park system have changed due to various circumstances, including funding constraints.

Of 13 small projects funded with appropriations in the two fiscal years that ended in mid-2017 and mid-2018, only four are complete, legislative budget analysts said.

Arizona State Parks Can be fixed – if Gov. Doug Ducey is willing. Will he Accept?

Source:  Linda Valdez, Arizona Republic – December 2, 2018

Opinion: Not all the problems at Arizona State Parks happened on Ducey’s watch. But the remedy is up to him.

Here’s one constituent letter

Ducey can turn it into a love letter to all of Arizona and a down payment on his legacy.

The constituent letter comes from the Arizona Heritage Alliance, an impressive group of people who know and care about our state’s remarkable cultural, historical and natural treasures.

The letter asks Ducey to restore $10 million a year in Heritage Fund money for Arizona State Parks & Trails. The funds were taken away in 2010.

Parks lack money for maintenance 

Heaven knows, the Parks need money.

  • They no longer get any money from the state’s general fund, and the price of deferred maintenance has been rising for years.

And heaven knows Arizonans wanted the Parks to have the money.

  • The dedicated funding was overwhelmingly approved by voters in a 1990 citizens’ initiative, which tapped the Lottery – not the general fund – for the money.

The letter reiterates how this money was used under the plan spelled out in the citizens’ initiative:

  • For recreation and open space development, restoration or renovation.
  • For outdoor and environmental education initiatives and non-motorized trails.
  • For operation, maintenance or repair of parks and natural areas.
  • For historic preservation and archaeological projects.

The last one is of particular interest.

Former director fired after complaints

In mid-November, Ducey fired former Parks Director Sue Black and her former deputy Jim Keegan.

It came after years of complaints about Black’s management.

It also came as Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich continues investigating whether laws protecting Native American and other archaeological sites were ignored on Black’s watch to facilitate development at the Parks and raise revenue.

These alleged breaches happened after the citizens’ oversight power of the State Parks Board was gutted.

Ducey asked to heal the agency

The letter asks Ducey to “heal the agency, its staff, the State Parks Board, and concerned citizens who care about our natural, cultural, and historic resources.”

He can make this a priority in his second term under the banner of fixing somebody else’s mistake.

After all, the evisceration of the Parks Board in 2012 and the loss of the Parks’ Heritage funding in 2010 both happened before Ducey took office.

What’s more, reversing those changes is a matter of simple fairness.

  • The Arizona Game and Fish Commission, a citizens’ group that sets policy for the Game and Fish Department, retained the power that was stripped from the Parks Board.
  • Game and Fish, which manages Arizona wildlife for hunting, fishing and conservation, also retained its $10 million a year share of Heritage funding, which was included in the original voter-approved initiative.

Why do some outdoor groups get preference?

The so-called “rod and gun” constituency that relies on Game and Fish for their sport has a strong voice in the Legislature – and that’s why that agency retained both citizens’ oversight and Heritage funding. But State Parks have a statewide constituency that, while not as organized, should not be ignored. Hiking, boating, fishing, birding and exploring Native American culture. You can do that and more at these Arizona State Parks. Parks serve an essential role in an increasingly urban Arizona, providing outdoor recreation for everyone and bringing tourism to rural areas.

The State Parks are a vast treasure house of Arizona’s past and present, ranging from the Yuma Territorial Prison to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum to Lake Havasu to Kartchner Caverns to the ancient ruins at Homolovi. Properly protecting and managing this heritage demands a dedicated funding source and good citizen oversight.

How Ducey can make this right

Sure. Sue Black was Ducey’s appointment. That was his mistake.

But two detrimental changes at Parks pre-date Ducey:

  • Unlike previous directors, Black did not answer to a strong and active Parks Board; she clearly needed that kind of citizen scrutiny.
  • What’s more, the rush for development to raise revenue might not have happened if the Parks had retained the Heritage money that Arizona voters wanted them to have.

Ducey can begin fixing those problems and answer the letter from his constituents as he crafts his State of the State speech. He can do it with a pledge to restore the Parks’ share of Heritage Fund money and reinvigorate the Parks Board.

Then he can shepherd those changes through a Legislature that will be more diverse next session and more in need of visionary leadership.

Reach Valdez at linda.valdez@arizonarepublic.com.