[Source: Bonnie Bariola, Special to the Florence Reminder] – Arizona Forward was formed for the purpose of enhancing the state’s environmental quality. The initial step in this process was to develop a parks and open space primer entitled Why Parks and Open Space Matter – The Economics of Arizona’s Natural Assets. This document provides unbiased facts, background information, and answers to frequently asked questions on this topic.
With a mission to promote cooperative efforts to improve the livability, sustainability, and economic vitality of cities and towns throughout the state, Arizona Forward was recently formed by Valley Forward, a 42-year old nonprofit public interest organization. Arizona Forward’s organizing members include Freeport McMoran /Copper and Gold, National Bank of Arizona, Sundt Construction, The Nature Conservancy, Fennemore Craig, Gammage and Burnham, Arizona Public Service Co., and the Arizona Heritage Alliance.
Surveys for the parks and open space primer revealed the fact that Arizonans overwhelmingly support state parks and open spaces and believe such areas contribute to a region’s economic health, but few people understand how the state pays for its parks. This lack of knowledge could imperil a parks system already weakened by budget cuts if lawmakers don’t hear from enough voters who want open spaces protected. Voters are encouraged to tell their state legislators to stop raiding the park system’s budget and support a dedicated and secure funding source for parks and wildlife protection.
To download a copy of the parks and open space primer go to arizonaforward.org. Research to prepare the primer revealed nearly 5.5 million Arizonans participate in active outdoor recreation, generating approximately $350 million in annual state tax revenue, producing nearly $5 billion in retail services and supports 83,000 jobs. Designed to enhance awareness of and interest in solving Arizona’s park’s issues, the primer is among Arizona Forward’s first projects toward its mission to promote cooperative efforts to improve the livability, sustainability, and economic vitality of cities and towns across Arizona. The user-friendly reference guide is described as “parks and open space 101.”
The primer covers not only facts about state parks but includes information about federal parks and lands, county and municipal parks, and other forms of trails and open space.
One section in the primer summarizes the Heritage Fund which was approved by Arizona’s voters in 1990 to protect our natural and cultural heritage. This initiative allocated $10 million per year from the state lottery monies to the Arizona Game and Fish Department and another $10 million to Arizona State Parks, both of which would provide grants to protect natural and cultural resources.
In 2010 the $10 million Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund was swept by the Arizona Legislature and completely eliminated with Budget Reconciliation Bill HB 2012 that repealed distributions to the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund and redirected the money to the state General Fund.
The members of Arizona Forward believe that to move Arizona forward, everyone must find common ground rather than faulting our differences. We must also work together to protect Arizona’s natural assets and ensure our state’s long-term economic prosperity. Everyone is encouraged to contact their legislators to let them know you want them to support and fund parks, open space and the Heritage Fund.