My Turn: Arizona State Parks feels winds of positive change

[Source: Bryan Martyn, Camp Verde Bugle] – As many of you know, our 28 Arizona State Parks are all open and still attracting more than 2.2 million visitors to Arizona. Even with high gas prices slowing campers in the rural western states, especially those with RV’s, State Parks’ visitation is holding steady.

Because Arizona State Parks is treated like a business, we have had to reduce a few hours, make some parks seasonal, and have increased our reliance on communities and Friend’s Groups. Not surprisingly, we’ve seen an increase in our revenues and a decrease in our operational costs. The winds of positive change are definitely blowing our way.

The support we see every day from the public is stronger than it has ever been. I believe the aggressive efforts by the residents and visitors to protect the system of Arizona’s State Parks reflects the sentiments of the majority of Arizona’s residents.

Today, I’m inviting every Arizonan to get out and enjoy their Parks. The weather is perfect throughout the state. Arizona State Parks has a new program called “Family Camping.” This program shows how easy and affordable camping can be. We give you a tent and fishing poles to use, and we even show you how to set up the tent and set your hook. We are “Camping Central” for campers looking for information. Call us during the week or check out our website 24 hours a day for ideas, camping tips and maps.

One of Arizona State Park’s best qualities is our flush toilets, hot showers and easy access. Every one of our Parks is handicap accessible and a compact car won’t have any trouble…as our roads are paved. Campers will be surprised to find upgraded areas like white sand on the Colorado River park beaches, huge shade trees and new campground loops.

The skills of our Rangers to manage volunteers and projects that enhance the Parks are one of our greatest assets. Our Rangers are experts at their Park and many of them are law enforcement officers. Our Parks are safe, convenient, affordable and provide untold opportunities to develop memories that last a lifetime.

See you at the Parks! Bryan Martyn is the Executive Director of Arizona State Parks.


The “State of State Parks”

Bryan Martyn, Arizona State Parks Director, gave a detailed “state of state parks” update to the Arizona Heritage Alliance‘s board of directors this morning. — with Bob White, Barbra Barnes, Woody Wilson, Russ Jones and Peter Culp at Flinn Foundation on February 19, 2013.

After years of budget cuts, greener outlook for Arizona State Parks

[Source: Cortney Bennett, Cronkite News Service]– After years of delivering deep cuts, lawmakers this session are discussing ways to give Arizona State Parks some more money and bring back a lottery-funded grant program the agency administered.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said there seems to be a core group of representatives who are concerned about funding state parks properly. “It is a pleasure to come to the Legislature this year and see several bills that are supporting state parks instead of the opposite,” Bahr told a House committee recently.

HB 2621, introduced by Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla, D-San Luis, would establish a voluntary fee that owners could pay when registering vehicles. The House Agriculture and Water Committee unanimously approved the bill Feb. 19. “Our state parks are a lot of times our economic tool for small, rural areas,” said Escamilla, whose district includes two state parks. The fee, which under the bill would be set by the Arizona State Parks Board, would provide 85 percent of total proceeds to Arizona State Parks and 15 percent to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Bryan Martyn, executive director of Arizona State Parks, said Escamilla’s bill would help the agency, which operates primarily on gate fees and since 2009 has received no general fund appropriation. “Make no mistake, Arizona State Parks is a business,” Martyn said. “And we have to search every day to try to figure out how to fund these state resources.”

Cristie Statler, executive director of Arizona State Parks Foundation, an advocacy group, said money generated by the fee would help parks with operations and maintenance. However, she said, it doesn’t solve the agency’s need for sustainable long-term funding. Statler noted that many of the state’s 30 parks currently rely on partnerships with nearby municipalities and nonprofit organizations. “Cities and towns cannot sustain these partnerships,” Statler said. “Their revenues have been stripped as well. What we’re doing is passing this obligation from the state to these cities and towns.”

Bahr said that in the past the Legislature has seemed to view state parks as an expendable luxury. She said the Legislature should come up with a sustainable revenue stream. “These are important assets that protect amazing cultural and biological resources as well as help to sustain many rural economies,” Bahr said.

Joseph Garcia, communication director for Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said it’s encouraging to hear discussion about finding a funding mechanism for state parks that are operating on shoestring budgets. “But if we’re really talking about improving and preserving state parks so they’re more visitor-friendly, then that needs an investment,” Garcia said. The Morrison Institute published a 2009 study that found Arizona spent less on its park system than nearly any other state when viewed as a percentage of the overall budget. “It’s sad that with all the money and energy thats been invested in state parks they’ll close or deteriorate or people won’t visit them because they don’t have modern amenities,” Garcia said.

Meanwhile, HB 2594, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, would among other provisions reinstate the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund, which used Arizona Lottery proceeds to provide grants for park programs, trails, historic preservation, environmental education and related projects. Arizona State Parks used some of the money for acquisitions and improvements. Arizona State Parks and the Arizona Game and Fish Department had received up to $10 million annually before the Legislature eliminated the Heritage Fund in 2010.

The House Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources endorsed the measure Feb. 18, forwarding it to the Appropriations Committee. Janice Miano, director of administration at the Arizona Heritage Alliance, said communities across the state would benefit from reinstating the Heritage Fund. “Every community in Arizona has received at least one Historical Fund grant over the last 23 years,” Miano said. “It’s certainly an economic engine for the rural communities. It brings in projects that wouldn’t normally be funded.”

Statler said that access to parks in terms of affordable entrance fees could be jeopardized if Arizona State Parks doesn’t receive adequate funding. “You can’t jack up the fees so much that the public can’t visit these parks that are state-owned assets,” Statler said.

Meanwhile, Martyn, the agency’s executive director, said he’s happy that Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposed budget included Arizona State Park’s requested operating budget of $21 million along with $2 million in Arizona Lottery proceeds for capital improvements. “The onus still is on us to demonstrate our value added to Arizona,” Martyn said. “Arizonans have to believe in state parks if we expect them to contribute.”

 

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.”