Scottsdale, Phoenix acquire trust land for preserves


Scottsdale and Phoenix were unopposed Friday in separate bids to acquire state trust land for their respective preserves, generating more than $69 million for the Arizona State Land Department.

The department scheduled the back-to-back auctions at its headquarters in downtown Phoenix.


Scottsdale succeeded in its bid for 2,000 acres in the Granite Mountain area of northern Scottsdale. The cost was $44.1 million, of which half will be covered by a grant from Arizona’s Growing Smarter conservation fund.

“These dollars are really only available for this use,” said Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane, who represented the city in its winning bid. “It is perfect timing.”

Scottsdale has acquired and protected almost 18,000 acres for its McDowell Sonoran Preserve, with a goal of preserving 36,000 acres.

Phoenix was the lone bidder on 1,139 acres a mile south of the Carefree Highway and 4 miles east of Interstate 17.A Growing Smarter grant will cover half the purchase price of $25.8 million. The remainder will be paid by sales-tax proceeds from the Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative, city spokesman David Urbinato said.

Voters approved the measure in 1999 that raises funds to preserve thousands of acres of state trust land and build and improve parks. Sixty percent of the money goes toward purchasing state trust land for the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. The city has 6,688 acres in total.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to come and add to our preserve,” said Councilwoman Thelda Williams, who made the bid for Phoenix.

Money generated by the auctions goes toward funding for public schools and other entities.


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Public Grand Re-Opening of Jerome State Historic Park on October 14th

The Arizona State Parks BoardYavapai County , the Town of Jerome & the Jerome Historical Society invite you to the Grand Re-Opening of Jerome State Historic Park! The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and public re-opening will take place at Noon! (Park will be closed until the opening at Noon.)

The park will offer Free Admission & Tours for the rest of the day! Come join us celebrate this park’s re-opening in the historic Town of Jerome. The park will operate on a 5-Day Schedule.

Download Event Flier (PDF Document 800 KB PDF)

Read Press Release about the Re-Opening


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Preserving our history is a focused duty

[Source: Prescott Daily Courier]

Photo Credit: Arizona State Parks

When the chips are down, Arizonans truly have grit.

Case in point: The Jerome State Historic Park, with the Douglas Mansion as its crown jewel, will reopen in all its glory on Thursday, thanks to the determination of people who value its significance in Yavapai County’s history.

Two major forces came together to shut the park down in 2009: a crippled state budget that forced the Legislature to cut money for state parks operations and the mansion’s crumbling adobe walls and roof.

But, the “closed” sign that went up on the park’s gates didn’t sit well with the people who treasure the vestiges of Jerome’s colorful past – and for good reason.

Jerome, which rose atop Cleopatra Hill, was once one of Yavapai County’s boomtowns, rich with copper that lured prospectors, investors and promoters who sought wealth from its depths. The little burg quickly grew from a cluster of tents and mining shacks to a flourishing company town, burgeoning with Americans, Croatians, Irish, Spaniards, Italians and Chinese, a cosmopolitan mix, all with hope that Lady Luck would smile on them.

The Douglas Mansion is Jerome’s most prominent landmark. Visible from every direction in the hillside town, the formidable edifice presides over the state park. The luxurious landmark was once the home of mining magnate James Stuart Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy Mine, and featured a wine cellar, a billiard room, marble shower, steam heat and a central vacuum system. The museum resonates with history of life in Jerome during its heyday as a major Arizona mining town.

When Jerome’s mining industry went bust and the town faced certain destiny as a ghost town, folks got together and stood guard over its historic buildings. The mansion became a state park in 1965 and Jerome became a national historic landmark in 1976.

The same strong will for preservation prevailed again when the park closed in 2009. One of the first to step up was Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis who was successful in persuading his board colleagues to appropriate $30,000 of county park money for three years to benefit three state parks in his District 3.

The Douglas family donated $15,000 to help repair the building. The Arizona State Parks board allocated sufficient Heritage Fund grant money to rebuild the roof, fix the adobe walls, reinforce the chimneys and paint the exterior.

Voila. The grand dame shines again, all thanks to the tenacity of people who appreciate the significance and colorful contribution of Jerome and the Douglas Mansion to Yavapai County’s historical tapestry.

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Legislature’s neglect of state park system harms Arizona’s economy

[Source: William C. Thornton,  Special To The Arizona Daily Star]

Preliminary recommendations by the Governor’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency (“Arizona urged to privatize its parks,” Sept. 22) come as no surprise to those of us who have been on the front lines of the battle to save Arizona’s state parks.

For the rest of us, it should serve as a wake-up call of what’s at stake if a lack of vision and political will is allowed to destroy our state park system. Conveniently, the final proposal won’t be released until after the fall elections; but it’s difficult to envision any park privatization scenario under which Arizona citizens and taxpayers won’t be the big losers.

In comments posted to the Star’s website, one writer asked: “What’s wrong with somebody earning a profit?”

The answer: absolutely nothing, and that’s just the point.

Hundreds of businesses throughout our state earn profits by supplying park visitors with gas, groceries, supplies, lodging and meals. A 2009 study by Northern Arizona University estimated the total economic impact of our state parks at $266 million per year, about half from out-of-state visitors. When a local park closes, as has already happened at Winslow (Homolovi), Springerville (Lyman Lake), and Oracle, visitors and the dollars they spend go away.

You may ask: “Won’t they do just as well under private management?”

The answer: Not likely! Private operators will, no doubt, be eager to take over profitable parks such as Catalina, Kartchner Caverns and the Colorado River parks. They probably won’t show much interest in smaller parks that, in themselves, aren’t profitable but still support local jobs.

How did we get here? The Legislature began the systematic dismantling of our state parks long before it could be justified by a budget crisis.

General-fund park appropriations ceased in 2002. Legislators told parks to become “more entrepreneurial and self-supporting” through admission fees, souvenir sales, etc. When they did, the Legislature took the money.

As a holistic system, profitable parks could carry those that didn’t break even but still generated economic benefits for their communities. That was no longer possible when the Legislature swept away every cent parks earned for themselves. In a particularly outrageous fund grab, legislators even took money from park donation jars and $250,000 from the estate of a benefactor who specifically willed it to state parks.

Before leaving office Gov. Janet Napolitano assembled a task force on sustainable parks to consider all options, including sale and privatization.

Gov. Jan Brewer continued the task force when she took office in January 2009. In October 2009, the task force recommended a modest $12 surcharge on noncommercial-vehicle licenses. In return, anyone with a current Arizona license plate would gain unlimited admission to all state parks. The system has worked well in other states. It would have assured the future of our state parks and reopened all roadside rest areas.

The measure died when House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh would not allow a vote by the panel. Kavanagh claimed to be taking a principled stand for taxpayers. It was nothing of the kind. If the measure had passed the Legislature, it still would have required voter approval. By denying voters a more direct voice in determining the future of our parks, Kavanagh exemplified the arrogant abuse of power that prompted the framers of our state constitution to provide for voter initiatives.

In testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, I relayed sharply contrasting experiences at two state historic parks: Judge Roy Bean in Texas and McFarland in Arizona. Although it’s far off the beaten path, at Roy Bean we found beautifully maintained facilities that celebrate a colorful chapter in the history of the Lone Star State. At McFarland, in the Tucson-Phoenix corridor, we found a closed facility with crumbling historic buildings, even though Senator, Governor and Judge McFarland arguably played a bigger role in Arizona history than Judge Roy Bean did in Texas.

Our tax code is riddled with dozens of loopholes that could be closed to distribute the overall tax burden more evenly and allow for investment in our state’s future. The legislative leadership flatly refused to consider it.

Where do we go from here? The future may look grim, but it’s far from hopeless. Much will be decided in the upcoming elections. If you agree that we need a vibrant system of parks to preserve our natural, cultural and historic treasures for all Arizonans, make your views known to the governor, your state legislators and candidates.

William C. Thornton is a member of the Arizona Heritage Alliance Board. E-mail him at

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