[City Manager Charlie] Cassens said earlier in the meeting that he feels strongly that the Arizona State Park Board will not close down Lake Havasu State Park.
“I feel very safe saying that if all of the parks closed in the state, Windsor Beach would be the last one to go,” he said. “These are my words, but I understand that (the State Parks Board) has vowed to spend whatever is necessary and do whatever is necessary to keep it open.”
City officials previously attempted a temporary lease agreement with Arizona State Parks to keep Lake Havasu State Park open. The Parks Board denied the agreement but stated earlier this year they planned to sustain the park.
The Hopi Tribal Council approved a resolution that will keep the Homolovi Ruins State Historic Park open, allowing safeguards and protection of the cultural and religious site.
Resolution No. H-068-2010, sponsored by Chairman LeRoy N. Shingoitewa and endorsed by Norman Honanie, was passed by the Council on Oct. 19 with a vote of 12-0. With the approved resolution, the Tribe entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona State Parks Board in an effort to assist with the operation and maintenance of the park -a move that will help preserve it.
The negotiated agreement allows the park to remain open thanks to the Hopi Tribe’s contribution, which will be used to employ park rangers and others working at the park. Funding for the park was designated by the Land Team in accordance with the agreement for the remainder of 2010 and is funded for Fiscal Year 2011. Funding for future years will be subject to the Council’s appropriations of additional funds.
According to the agreement, the park would be open and operated by State Parks for 12 months. There is an option to renew the agreement for two additional one-year periods. The tribe will provide $175,000 to subsidize the park operations and the State Parks will retain fees. The park will be subject to quarterly reviews of its operation by the State Parks and the Hopi Tribe.
Cedric Kuwaninvaya (Sipaulovi), Hopi Council Representative and member of the Hopi Land Team, is thankful for the agreement.
“I am glad the park will reopen and it will be safeguarded and protected,” Kuwaninvaya said. “It is because of the budget deficit, the Homolovi State Park was closed by the state. Hopi became worried that once again, the pot hunters could start desecrating our ancient homelands. Hopi began discussions with state park representatives, the City of Winslow and others to formulate a plan to keep the park open. Thus an agreement was developed and approved. As a result, we will protect and preserve our ancient homelands and share our cultural heritage.”
Earlier this year, the state’s budget deficit threatened funding for 19 of the state’s 28 parks, including Homolovi Ruins State Historic Park. Various entities and municipalities throughout the state began efforts to help fund the operations of state parks across the state. It is estimated that the budget for the state parks was drastically reduced from $28 million a few years ago to $18 million, this was an effort by state lawmakers to tackle the budget deficit.
The re-opening day of the Homolovi Park has not been determined yet, according to Ellen Bilbrey with Arizona State Parks. Bilbrey said some parks are still closed, some are managed by others and some operated in conjunction from others to stay open.
A powerhouse panel of political players combined with a standing room-only crowd of State Parks supporters and conservationists gathered to help strategize the long-term sustainable operation of the State Parks system Thursday.
Supported by a documentary film, “Postcards from the Parks,” which tells the story of Arizona’s State Parks long-running financial crisis, the panel took five aspects of the issue and fielded questions.
Birgit Lowenstein, who helped organize the Benefactors of the Red Rocks, said, “we have taken State Parks for granted.”
There were also representatives from Cottonwood, Jerome, and Yavapai County, plus a flood of volunteers of the Parks system.
“We have created a financial band-aid, but it is not sustainable. We must find a long-term solution,” urged Lowenstein.”
Chief among the messages of the documentary film: “A closed park doesn’t make any money.”
The closure of the parks would save the government $8 million, but cost $260 million in economic decline to the surrounding communities from the parks’ closure.
The documentary film quotes Director Renee Bahl, “We don’t have to chose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. We can have both.”
The first panel member was the Chairman of the Arizona State Parks Board Reese Woodling. He recalled the meeting of Jan. 15, 2010, made him “sick to his stomach.” That was the day the state board had to announce that 13 State Parks would have to be closed after the legislature gutted the budget of the parks system.
He says, now the “hot issue will be privatization,” but he had a warning: “It’s OK to operate a store or horse facility. We support the National Park Service model of enhanced concessions, but still, the Parks Board needs to be in control of its operations.”
Former District 1 State Senator Tom O’Halleran told the gathering the decline in funding for the state Parks system is not new and since 1980 has been decreasing. Arizona has one of the best State Parks systems in the country, but it has been dead last in funding it and the parks are in decline.
“The State Parks hold Arizona’s cultural and historic perspective. Do we want a concessionaire to say, ‘We will take care of your history for you?'”
O’Halleran says most Arizonans and visitors prefer a formal park and campground. Most people are not trained for wilderness recreation.
He applauded the turnout of more than 125 citizens for the meeting.
“We don’t see this kind of crowd in the legislature and that is probably the reason why the legislature doesn’t believe it is an issue,” said O’Halleran.
“The Verde Valley has more State Parks than anywhere else in the State. We also have more National Monuments,” Chip Davis reminded the crowd. “They are very important to our economy and to our tourism and it is an economic engine for us. But more than that it is part of our character and who we are. And that is why it is such a passionate issue to us.”
Davis speculates that the few number of legislators from rural Arizona — 15 of 90 — account for the small support for the parks system.
“Each one of us needs to take some kind of responsibility in writing our legislators and talking to our neighbors about the importance of the state parks. Arizona was the last in the nation to establish a State Parks system in 1957. Let’s not be the first to close it down,” said Davis.
Bob Burnside, Mayor of Camp Verde, was one of the first local government leaders to step up to keep Fort Verde open. “We don’t have a recreational park like Slide Rock. We have a historic park. Ours is our history and culture. We can probably help out next year and the year after, but can’t do it forever.”
“Governor Brewer and the majority of the legislature have mounted an intentional assault on land conservation and the State Parks system,” believes Sandy Bahr of he Arizona Sierra Club. “They removed all the funding for the operations of the State Parks. They have repealed the Heritage Fund that voters approved by a 2/3 vote. Now they have bonded against that money. It was at the Governors suggestion and the legislature approved it.”
“They have not yet taken the Game and Fish portion of the Heritage Fund, since it is an election year. The Parks Department was working with a $26 million dollar budget in 2009. It now has $8million.”
I have always asked, “Who doesn’t like parks, and this year the legislature demonstrated they don’t like parks.”
The legislature shot down one method of funding the state parks. HCR2040 would have added a small levy on the vehicle licenses. But, the Appropriations Committee Chair would not hear it.
“One thing that hurts is that there are no state parks in Maricopa County,” Bahr believes.
She says, “The thing that is important is just showing up. I have seen people change and we have to give more scrutiny to the Privatization and Efficiency study.”
The gathering was urged to flood the legislature with postcards calling for support of state parks.
O’Halleran closed the meeting with the admonition, “You have to leave here know that we can make real change.”
A public discussion on the Future of Arizona State Parks will be held on September 30, 2010 from 6:00-8:00 pm at the Sedona Public Library located at 3250 White Bear Rd, West Sedona.
Excerpts from the documentary film “Postcards from the Parks” which highlights the plight of the State Park system in the state’s current financial crisis will be shown, and a panel of experts and elected officials will discuss the future of AZ State Parks.
The theme of the evening is “Will/Can the State Park system survive and if so in what form?”
Reese Woodling: Chair of Arizona State Parks Board
Tom O’Halleran: Former State Senator and State Representative and former Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee
Chip Davis: Yavapai County Supervisor
Matt Ryan: Coconino County Supervisor
Rob Adams: Mayor, City of Sedona
Bob Burnside: Mayor, Camp Verde
Sandy Bahr: Sierra Club Government Relations
The public is invited to attend and participate in the panel discussion.
Sponsored by Benefactors of Red Rock State Park, Democrats of the Red Rocks, Friends of Verde River Greenway, Keep Sedona Beautiful and the Sierra Club. Contact BIRGIT LOEWENSTEIN 928-282-0777 Chair, Benefactors of Red Rock State Park, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.