Why Parks & Open Space Matter – What You Can Do

NEWLY FORMED BUSINESS COALITION PUSHES STATEWIDE SUSTAINABILITY AGENDA TO MOVE ARIZONA FORWARD

TUCSON, Ariz. (Aug 31, 2011) – Nearly every Arizonan (93 percent) believes parks and open space are essential to Arizona tourism, but most residents (80 percent) rate their knowledge of how state and local parks are funded as mid to low, according to a recent statewide survey.

The poll was conducted by WestGroup Research on behalf of Arizona Forward, a new statewide business/environmental coalition. It complements a new report, “Why Parks and Open Space Matter – The Economics of Arizona’s Natural Assets,” produced by the coalition.

The survey results and report will be released Aug. 31 at the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association annual conference in Tucson, just prior to Labor Day when parks are at their busiest. Recognizing the need for public education on the subject of parks and open space issues, Arizona Forward designed the report to provide unbiased facts, background information and answers to frequently asked questions about state and federal lands as well as county and municipal parks.

The parks and open space primer notes that nearly 5.5 million Arizonans participate in active outdoor recreation, generating approximately $350 million in annual state tax revenue, producing nearly $5 billion in retail services and supporting 82,000 jobs.

Designed to enhance awareness of and interest in solving Arizona’s parks issues, the primer is among Arizona Forward’s first projects towards its mission to promote cooperative efforts to improve the livability, sustainability and economic vitality of cities and towns across Arizona. Readers can sort out how much open space is available in the state, who is responsible for it and the challenges facing various jurisdictions of government. The user friendly reference guide is described as ‘parks and open space 101’ and can be downloaded here.

While Arizona Forward’s primer doesn’t take a formal position on how to solve funding issues relating to parks, it communicates the economic impact of recreational and open space amenities and why Arizonans should care about these natural resources.

For example, every dollar in taxpayer money spent on national parks returned a $4 economic benefit through tourism and private sector spending, according to the 2009 National Parks Second Century Commission. In addition, the Interior Department notes recreational activities on Arizona’s public lands (about 40 percent of the state) supported 21,364 jobs and contributed just under $2 billion to Arizona’s economy.

Recently launched by Valley Forward Association, a 42 year old nonprofit public interest organization, Arizona Forward’s charter members include: Arizona Community Foundation, First Solar, Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold, National Bank of Arizona, Solon Corporation, Sundt Construction, The Nature Conservancy, Total Transit and Wells Fargo.

“A depressed economy has impacted parks negatively at every jurisdictional level,” said Kurt Wadlington, chair of Arizona Forward’s Advisory Board and Tucson building group leader for Sundt Construction. “Multiple land ownerships and funding mechanisms add to the complexity of parks issues, which can be confusing and sometimes controversial.”

“We must work together to protect Arizona’s natural assets and ensure our state’s long term economic prosperity,” added Diane Brossart, acting director of Arizona Forward and president of Valley Forward. “If we don’t determine how best to manage our parks and open space, we will lose our most treasured resources.”

Arizonans highly value parks, ranking them as key quality of life indicators, according to the WestGroup Research survey, which revealed that 87 percent of the state’s residents visit a park or recreation area at least once a year, with 23 percent doing so on a weekly basis.

“As Arizona approaches its centennial, our state is at a critical juncture related to its environment and quality of life,” Brossart said. “Wise decisions will require collaboration among public, business and civic leaders across the state. To move Arizona forward economically, environmentally and socially, we need to find our commonalities rather than fault our differences.”

The idea for Arizona Forward was conceived by the leadership of Valley Forward, which is a voice for balance between economic growth and environmental quality in and around Maricopa County.

Founded in January this year, Arizona Forward will leverage the resources of Valley Forward to bring business and civic leaders together to convene thoughtful public dialogue on statewide sustainability issues. For more information, visit arizonaforward.org or call 602-240-2408.

WHAT YOU CAN DO!

  • Pay attention to Arizona lawmakers to ensure that they don’t raid state parks’ earned income for other uses; contact them before and after important votes.
  • Tell your representatives that state parks must have protected sources of income to pay for the essentials – core services, major maintenance and capital improvements.
  • Promote a voter-approved amendment to the Arizona Constitution that allows the State Land Department to designate certain State Trust lands for parks and open space preservation that could be acquired by public agencies or non-profit entities at appraised value without competitive bidding.
  • Call for a dedicated and secure funding source to protect and improve the Heritage Fund for Arizona State Parks and Arizona Game and Fish, adjusted for inflation and not subject to diversion by Arizona lawmakers or politicians.
  • Stay involved in regional planning and support open space.
  • Tell elected officials how important parks and open space are to you and your community.
  • Use your social network, Facebook, Twitter and other opportunities to spread the message.
  • Support and encourage public/private partnerships to build stronger parks and trails systems.
  • Help find and support non-traditional funding opportunities.
  • Advocate for federal funding sources to maintain and protect Arizona’s parks, monuments, public lands and open spaces; support the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Arizona projects it helps finance.
  • Remind state and federal policymakers of the economic impact – jobs and revenue – generated by Arizona’s natural assets.

For more information go to: Arizona Forward or Arizona Heritage Alliance