Advocates work toward completion of Prescott Circle Trail

[Source: Cindy Barks, The Daily Courier] – What started as a modest trails effort around local equestrian Jan Alfano’s dining-room table more than 20 years ago appeared to gain steam this week toward its possible finishing point. Although no decisions occurred on Tuesday, members of the Prescott City Council appeared receptive to a proposal to use about $120,000 of streets/open space sales tax revenue to lease about 6.6 miles of trail easements over Arizona State Trust Land.

The goal: a major step toward completion of the 50-mile Prescott Circle Trail.

Alfano, a founder and mainstay of the Yavapi Trails Association, was on hand Tuesday to introduce a video, “Circle of Cooperation” that includes pitches from a number of local trails advocates. “This has been a collaborative effort that’s just unbelievable,” Alfano told the council.

Prescott Trails Specialist Chris Hosking noted afterward that while the bulk of the completed Circle Trail runs across U.S. Forest Service land, sections of it also cross Bureau of Land Management land, City of Prescott land, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University land. Other entities also been have instrumental in the progress, Alfano said. For instance, she brought up the cooperation off the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the “untold hours of hard, hard work of the Over the Hill Gang (volunteer trail builders).”

The fledgling Yavapai Trails Association came up with the idea for the Prescott Circle Trail in the early 1990s, Alfano said, recalling meetings of about five people “tossing ideas around” at her Williamson Valley home. In 1993, the effort received a $9,000 Heritage Fund grant from the state to complete the first section of the circle – the 2.75-mile Turley Trail in the Government Canyon area. Several of the trails advocates on the video mentioned the tourism potential that would come with the completion of the Circle Trail. They predicted that hikers, cyclists and equestrians would travel to Prescott for the challenge of completing the 50-mile loop. Prescott Parks and Recreation Director Joe Baynes explained that a “pre-appraisal” has already taken place on the state-land easements.

A meeting between city and state officials took place in January, Baynes said, and the city’s application to the Arizona State Land Department is already in the process. Meanwhile, the $120,000 city expenditure likely would go to the City Council for a decision in about August, City Manager Craig McConnell said. “This (week’s) presentation is viewed as an introduction,” McConnell told the council.

In the preliminary 2012-13 budget, the city has allocated $500,000 toward open space acquisitions. City Attorney Gary Kidd said the city could use its open space money for the trail easement lease. “The money is there,” McConnell said. Council reaction to the idea was positive this week.

“The ball is bouncing; let’s keep it bouncing,” Councilman Steve Blair said. “The public needs to understand there is an economic benefit to the community, and it does pay for itself.” The 6.6-mile segment would run from the “P” Mountain area to the Peavine Trail area. The new stretch would connect to completed sections of the Circle Trail, which take in picturesque areas, such as Thumb Butte, Granite Mountain, and Quartz Mountain.

If the City Council approves the State Land leases, Baynes said volunteers and parks employees could have the trails built within about 10 months to a year.That would leave about a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of unfinished Circle Trail through private ranchland west of Williamson Valley Road, near the Pioneer Parkway intersection, Baynes said.

George Sheats of the Over the Hill Gang said the Yavapai Trails Association and the Open Space Alliance plan to conduct a public meeting on the project 7 p.m. June 13 at the Founders Suite of the Prescott Public Library, 215 E. Goodwin St.

Bill to protect Arizona State Parks revenue advances

[Source: Jessica Testa, Cronkite News Service, 2/3/2012] –A bill that would protect Arizona State Parks revenues from budget sweeps and allow the agency to use the money for operations took its first step Thursday in the state House. The House Agriculture and Water Committee unanimously endorsed HB 2362, which Rep. Karen Fann, R–Prescott, proposed in response to the massive budget cuts to Arizona State Parks.

The Legislature has swept $82 million from the agency since 2008. That money not only funded the operations and maintenance of the state’s park but also funded grants for municipalities to develop and sustain community parks and trails. Since 2010, many state parks have had to temporarily close due to budget constraints before returning to at least limited operations. In some of those cases, communities agreed to provide money and personnel to reopen parks.

In 2009, the Legislature removed Arizona State Parks from its general fund budget altogether and told the agency to start acting like a business, Fann noted. Now, like any other business, the agency should be able to keep its own revenue without the threat of sweeps, she said. “When we start sweeping funds to the extent that they’re having to close down, what have we done?” Fann said in an interview.

Seven of the nine committee members sponsor the bill, including the chairman, Rep. Russ Jones, R–Yuma. The Arizona State Parks Board strongly supports the bill, said Jay Ziemann, the agency’s legislative liaison. Ziemann explained that 84 percent of state parks sit on land that isn’t state-owned and that the Bureau of Land Management owns a majority of that, he said. “BLM has asked that we protect the funds we generate,” he said.

The approval sent the bill to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Rural lawmaker seeks halt to state sweeping Arizona State Parks revenues

[Source: Jessica Testa, Cronkite News Service, 1/18/2012]– Arizona State Parks would be able to protect the revenue it raises from budget sweeps and use it for park operations under legislation proposed by a rural lawmaker. Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, whose district is home to five state parks, said it was “penny wise and pound foolish” for the Legislature to cut the agency’s funding so drastically over the past few years. “Our state parks contribute to jobs and economic development. Especially in rural areas, they’re the ones bringing in business to local restaurants and hotels,” said Fann, the author of HB 2362.

The bill would create a fund allowing Arizona State Parks to keep all of the money generated from gate fees, concession fees, souvenir sales and all unconditional gifts and donations not specified for particular projects. The money would go toward operation and maintenance costs for the entire parks system. The state wouldn’t be able to pull money from the agency to help balance its budget, as it has done in the past, Fann said. “We’re asking the Legislature that we make sure, from here on out, that we don’t touch their fund,” she said. “Hands off this one. No sweeps of this one.”

The fund would not only protect park budgets but also ensure that Arizona State Parks is following rules set by the federal Bureau of Land Management, said Arizona State Parks Assistant Director Jay Ziemann. Many of the state’s larger parks sit on land that the federal government has transferred to the state at little to no cost as part of the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. These parks have entered into various financial partnerships with private entities, such as concession companies, Ziemann said.

The Bureau of Land Management requires that all money generated by these parks be reinvested into the parks, not transferred to the state. Without the protection of the parks’ funds, the public-private partnerships would also not be eligible for renewal.

Arizona State Parks hasn’t received money from the state’s general fund since 2009. Meanwhile, more than $15 million has been swept from the agency’s revenues, Ziemann said. “The Legislature directed the Arizona State Parks Board to act like a business, to go out and survive on their revenues,” Ziemann said. “Since then, they’ve essentially stolen money out of the till.”

Fann said her district’s parks brought in more than 500,000 tourists and $1.8 million last year, supporting 916 jobs. “It could have been much worse, if not for the municipalities who stepped up to the plate and contributed a little money from their funds to help minimize the impact of the sweeps,” Fann said.

Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma, one of the nine primary sponsors of HB 2362, said that though partnerships with companies have helped raise park revenues, the state’s parks should not become “private retail venues.”

“Every one of our parks is a jewel and we should take pride in how they look and how they function,” Jones said.