Lawmaker: Funding state parks improvements now saves costs later

[Source: Donyelle Kesler, Cronkite News] – Delaying capital improvements needed after years of deep budget cuts to Arizona State Parks will only exacerbate the problems and increase future costs, a state lawmaker said Wednesday. “If you don’t take care of your infrastructure, it’s like not taking care of your house and if you let that little $2 item go and don’t fix it, you end up with a $100 repair bill,” said Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

Fann, whose district includes five state parks, said Arizona has been doing roughly the same thing with its parks for too long. “Not only are we behind the curve on fixing what should have been fixed years ago, but now we have additional problems on top of them,” she said. Bryan Martyn, director of Arizona State Parks, is requesting $15.5 million in Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget for capital improvements. Arizona State Parks hasn’t received money from the state’s general fund since 2009 and currently works off a $19.5 million budget. Officials say state parks have about $200 million in capital needs.

Fann, who pushed successfully last year to allow Arizona State Parks to keep all gate and concession fees, said that parks are vital to the state’s economy. “It is responsible for over 3,000 direct jobs, it is responsible for over $2 million worth of revenue, and so state parks is really something we need to keep open,” Fann said. “This isn’t a feel-good item, this is about our economy. The feel-good and the beauty and all that stuff, that’s just the icing on the cake.”

Cuts to the Arizona State Parks budget led to agreements allowing some communities to take over operations and keep parks operating. Arizona State Parks Board Chairman Tracy Westerhausen said the $15.5 million would be an investment. “It serves the people who come from outside of Arizona to see our parks and enriches the lives of the people who are here already,” she said. Westerhausen said the projects include improving water-treatment systems and electrification of campsites. “We’re under a state mandate to provide clean water to people who come to our parks, and one of the things we can’t do is improve our water structure in the parks,” she said.

Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the governor, said Brewer has taken Martyn’s request into account along with all of the proposals from other state agencies. “Of course state parks are a priority, but so is public safety, classroom education, road and transportation systems, Child Protective Services – all of these issues are important,” Benson said.

Grady Gammage Jr., who as a senior research fellow for Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy co-wrote a 2009 report on ways to fund state parks said the facilities are assets to both the state’s economy and residents. Image

“Part of reason people want to live in Arizona is because of the open space and natural resources of parks and it can have a lot to do with what makes the state attractive to businesses and people moving here,” Gammage said. “If you don’t support that, you risk a lot more than just damaging the parks, you risk damaging this economic engine that drives Arizona.”

Accomplishments of the Arizona Heritage Alliance 2008-2009

  • For 2007-2008, the Arizona Heritage Alliance Board initiated a visionary project of a more protected and additive funding concept for both Arizona State Parks and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. We engaged a public dialogue, with the goal of a consensus among the parties. A Heritage Fund 2 Working Group was formed from this initial meeting and met several times.

 

  • This same working group designed a simple Pledge for our Arizona lawmakers in 2008. Our Legislators’ Pledge on behalf of the Heritage Fund is an investment in safe playground equipment for our children; new parks and trails; the reintroduction of endangered species into Arizona; the restoration of historic buildings; and the conservation of wild and open spaces and critical habitat for wildlife.

 

  • Commencing in 2009, the Arizona Heritage Alliance Board in collaboration with the Arizona Preservation Foundation and Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter composed a sign-on letter to our Legislators to protect the Heritage Fund. We solicited over 175 organizations concerned with parks, trails, wildlife and habitat; tribes; cities/towns/counties; parks & rec departments; schools; businesses; and more.

 

  • We hosted the event, Papago’s Past, Present & Future, at the Arizona Historic Preservation Conference in June 2009. We provided a lively presentation and enriching experience which included a discussion on the historic significance of Papago Park and the importance of the Heritage Fund to Arizona’s wildlife, habitat and special places.

 

  • Also at the Arizona Historic Preservation Conference in 2009, we organized a panel discussion regarding the future of the Heritage Fund. The panel included: Anthony Verrkamp of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; Bonnie Bariola, Florence Preservation Foundation; Renee Bahl, Director of Arizona State Parks; and the Honorable Kyrsten Sinema, LD15 Arizona House of Representatives.

 

The Fight to Keep State Parks Open

[Source: Shain Bergan, Tucson Weekly]

The slashing of Arizona State Parks’ state-allocated funds means parks officials have started facing a harsh reality: They may be forced to close several parks, in addition to the three that are currently closed to the public because of lack of funding.Their general funding was cut from $20 million to zero, so the parks will now be working on a budget largely consisting of self-generated funds made up of mostly gate fees, says Jay Ziemann, assistant director of Arizona State Parks. 

These self-generated funds equal about $10 million, falling well short of the $18.4 million needed to operate the parks currently open to the public.

Bellota Trail at Oracle State Park

Things looked grim about a year ago, as well, for Arizona State Parks. After a $10 million Legislative sweep of the parks’ Heritage Fund, parks officials faced the probability that they would have to look at closing more than half of Arizona’s 28 state parks.Communities, towns and counties, though, stepped forward, footing at least part of the bill to keep 16 of those parks open through temporary 1 to 3-year lease agreements.

For nine of those parks, third parties contributed enough to keep state park staff employed at the locations. For the others, the government staff has been replaced by employees and volunteers of the contributing parties, Ziemann says.
Now, only three state parks—-Lyman Lake State Park, Oracle State Park and San Rafael State Natural Area—-are currently closed to the public without lease agreements in the works. Despite the difficulties raised by the governor’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, parks officials are still trying to figure out ways to keep those parks open, Ziemann says.

Those efforts include talking to contacts at the State Capitol and trying to attract local communities to the table to negotiate temporary leases, Ziemann says.

Although Ziemann remains optimistic that agreements can be made to keep all the parks open, he concedes that temporary leases do not solve the larger issue of lacking revenue in the Arizona State Parks system.

“Right now, the goal is to get all these parks open to the public,” he says. “But this is not a long-term solution.”

So what is a long-term solution?

“We’re still trying to figure that out.”

Kelly Alvidrez: Arizona Sate Park Youth Ambassador

[Source: America’s State Parks]

Kelly Alvidrez

State:

Arizona

Age:

26

Bio:

I am one of the few, it seems, that was able to grow up in the outdoors. I went on my first camping trip at age 6 months and have been tramping through the woods ever since.

When I was a kid you could find me building an igloo in the back yard, rebuilding my tree fort in the summer or investigating the creek that ran through the woods.

Now, as an adult I still have a passion for camping, hiking, and tramping through the woods. I love being outside! I love climbing a peak even more! With sunshine on my face and a pack on my back I feel unstoppable.

I Am A State Park Ambassador Because:

Being an Ambassador for Arizona State Parks is a great opportunity for me to share my love of the outdoors, and knowledge of conservation.

If I am able to inspire just one youth to go out and experience the beauty and wildness of nature, mission accomplished. But with that in mind, it is just as important for me to teach environmental education and interpretation, so these same youth will also know how to respect nature.

Schools Attended:

University of California, Santa Cruz and Arizona State University

First State Park:

Not sure, I would have been pretty young and don’t remember

Favorite State Park:

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, California or any park on the ocean

Park I Am Dying To Visit:

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

I’ve Visited State Parks In:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Coolest Thing I’ve Seen In Parks:

The coolest thing I have seen lately would have to be in Catalina State Park. The way the sun was setting across from the Catalina Mountains gave this glow; it was magical!

Interests:

Discovering new places, adventuring, road trips, going to the beach, and good coffee

Music Played At My Campfire:

Jack Johnson

What Not To Miss In My State’s Parks:

The small creatures. There are so many big rocks and cliffs and mountains. Look for the small things

Who I Would Go On A Hike With If I Could:

John Steinbeck or Theodore Roosevelt

This Sums It All Up For Me:

“Smell the sea and feel the sky, Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic…” ~Van Morrison