State parks: Arizonans love them, lawmakers don’t

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial Board] – Hollywood made dozens of movies about Tombstone. “None of them are accurate,” says Tombstone City Councilman Don Taylor.

Tombstone’s 1882 courthouse remembers the Wild West reality those movies can’t portray. Sheriff’s office, gallows, creaking wooden floors. But Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park can’t tell the full story, either. Not without all the guns.

When recession-era cuts closed parks statewide, Tombstone and its Chamber of Commerce entered an agreement with the state to keep the courthouse open.

“We had to take some of the artifacts out when they took over,” says Jay Ream, deputy director of Arizona State Parks. Some Wyatt Earp-era guns were put in the vault because of security concerns. Territorial records that had been available to history buffs were also locked away, for security concerns of a different type. “They are doing an outstanding job,” Ream says of the local folks managing the courthouse. “Is it the best it can be? I’d say no. We’re better equipped to manage a museum.”

But the state can’t afford to take back the courthouse. It can’t afford to create modern, interactive exhibits to tell the stories that shaped Arizona. Parks around the state can’t afford to offer ranger-led hikes or interpretive tours much anymore, either.

We may think we know Tombstone. The gunfights. The violence. The dust. But Hollywood doesn’t get everything right. A look at the many facets (some more historically accurate than others) of the Town Too Tough to Die.

People love the parks. Politicians don’t.

The state parks system was stripped of resources during the recession. Efforts to restore or replace funding have been rejected at the Legislature and by Gov. Jan Brewer.

A State Auditor General’s report in 2012 said the parks system faces “risks to its financial sustainability because of a decrease in annual revenues from approximately $54.7 million in fiscal year 2008 to approximately $25.7 million in 2012.”

It’s gotten worse.

In fiscal 2014, the operating budget was $22.5 million. That’s about $20 million less than what Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy said was needed to operate and maintain the system in 2009.

The parks also have $80 million in capital needs, according to Parks Director Bryan Martyn, a Republican whose hiring was approved by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.

That includes more than $15 million in upgrades just to comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Among those needs: a new main waterline to Kartchner Caverns ($3.75 million), a wastewater treatment plant for Boyce Thompson Arboretum ($1.2 million), a potable water line for Homolovi ($5.5 million), as well as assorted septic systems, dump stations and water storage facilities.

These are not frills. They are vital to protecting public health.

Other top priority needs at parks include stabilizing historic and prehistoric structures so they don’t fall down, maintaining trails and roads, fixing leaky roofs and upgrading restrooms, docks and fish cleaning stations. Also needed are basics such as pavement striping, campground electrification, picnic table armadas and dam repairs.

State parks have received no money from the general fund since 2009. During the recession, the Legislature swept away parks’ funding from a variety of sources, including $10 million from the Heritage Fund.

That’s a relatively small amount of money in a $9 billion-plus budget state budget, but it’s nearly half of what the parks are operating on today.

The Heritage Fund was created by voters in a 1990 initiative to support state parks. But legislators are deaf to the people’s voice. An attempt to restore the money was ignored by lawmakers last year, and two Heritage restoration bills this year appear doomed.

Another bill this session would have redirected money the parks get from the State Lake Improvement Fund. Martyn says it would be “very, very challenging” for state parks to operate without the $6.5 million or so the fund provides. Thankfully, that bill also appears dead. But it demonstrates some legislators’ continued bad attitude toward state parks.

Brewer does little better. Her budget acknowledged “a cumulative list of all capital projects requested by State Parks totaling over $200 million.” But she only recommended spending $3 million over two years from an existing fund. She also proposed eliminating $1 million the parks received this year from interest on the rainy day fund.

Arizona’s parks represent irreplaceable natural and historic treasures. They help rural economies by providing world-class tourist attractions. They reflect our heritage and the bigger-than-life landscapes that shaped Arizona’s spirit.

They have huge needs and scarce resources.

Similarly in need and just as scarce are elected leaders with the foresight to make Arizona State Parks a priority and a cause.



Arizona State Parks are a resource for today and a promise for tomorrow. But short-sighted funding decisions imperil their future. You can help change that.

  • VISIT. Arizona’s state parks offer dazzling natural wonders, family recreational activities and authentic windows into Arizona’s history and prehistory.
  • BE A CHAMPION. There’s an election coming up. Ask candidates for state office how they plan to support Arizona’s parks and let them know you want this to be a priority issue.
  • GET INVOLVED. More than a dozen parks have volunteer “friends” groups that provide fund-raising and other services for their chosen park. For information on joining or starting one:

Arizona State Parks Foundation is a non-profit that engages in advocacy, fund-raising and other support:

The Arizona Heritage Alliance is a non-profit that promotes and protects the Heritage Fund and its goals:



Arizona State Parks are a valuable resource in great peril. Stripped of funding during the recession, they struggle without state money and stagger under deferred maintenance. Yet they offer open spaces and outdoor recreation for a growing urban population and an economic engine for rural communities. Popular with the public, but lacking political support, funding solutions can help the parks deliver on their remarkable potential.

AZ State Parks repairs historic San Rafael home

[Source: JB Miller, The Weekly Bulletin] – After years of neglect due to funding cuts, as well as a wildfire that nearly razed one of the state’s most important territorial style homes, Arizona State Parks is now rushing to save the historic headquarters of the San Rafael Ranch. As part of this effort, over a dozen AZ State Parks personnel recently spent two days (Oct 9-10) cleaning house, making repairs, and getting the grounds into shape.

In addition, a new caretaker has been hired to keep an eye on the ranch house and adjoining property located along the U.S.-Mexico border just east of Lochiel. “All hands are on deck,” said Lee Eseman, acting chief of operations, who was busy working on one of the columns along the weathered and termite eaten porch that wraps around the 9,000 square foot house. “Hopefully it is in time.”

In 2008, the state parks system experienced a heavy layoff, leaving the San Rafael State Natural Area devoid of staff. “We had this place pretty much vacant when the recession hit and they started cutting back on our funding. When they did away with the Heritage Fund they did away with all the operational funding for this,” said Assistant State Parks Director Jay Ream. “We’ve had about $2 million over the last few years taken from our operating fund to help out with the state budget. We just couldn’t put people here and keep other parks open too. The problem was if you don’t keep a park open you begin to spiral down.”

In addition to damage to the main house, it was discovered that the adobe walls to the barn were crumbling away. “It’s been deteriorating quickly,” said Eseman, who added that there are also two out buildings “cowboy houses” that need to be maintained. Other challenges include keeping the solar and water systems going. Near one of the bunkhouses, a windmill broke and water had to be trucked in. The vegetation that surrounded the structures had also gotten out of hand, which fueled a wildfire that broke out following what was suspected a lightning strike this past summer.

“The fire in June was a wake-up call,” said Ream about the wildfire that destroyed a nearby pump house before burning all the way up to the historic headquarters. Luckily firefighters from the Patagonia Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department and the Coronado National Forest Service were able to respond quickly enough to douse the flames.

“We dodged a bullet and swore that when we got to the new fiscal year, we were determined to get somebody in here and have a clean-up day,” Ream said. In addition to mowing around the house in order to make it more “fire wise,” the work crew also removed an alarming amount of dead grass that had blown against the buildings. “A clean-up day does two things – one it gets a lot of big projects done in a hurry, but it’s also a nice team-building thing,” Ream said. He said parks personnel also wanted to knock out as much as they could so it wouldn’t seem so daunting to the new caretaker, Jon Erickson, who he described as a “good all-around hand.”

For now the San Rafael House will remain closed to the public. “It’s not structurally sound nor does it have the facilities for the general public (restrooms etc),” said Eseman, adding that safety along the border has also been a concern for AZ State Parks.

Originally a Mexican Land Grant, San Rafael de la Zanja was purchased by Colin Cameron and partners in the late 1800s. Built in 1900, the “Cameron House” was sold along with the ranch three years later to William C. Greene, better known as Colonel Greene the “Copper Skyrocket.” After the death of William Greene’s daughter Florence Greene Sharp, the ranch was sold to The Nature Conservancy in 1998 and eventually Arizona State Parks purchased 3,557 acres of the property in 1999 as a natural area.

According to the San Rafael State Park website, the purchase was made with Heritage Funds, which are used to preserve open areas. In 2008 the ranch headquarters was designated as a National Historic District. “It’s an investment in Arizona’s future,” Ream said while looking out of one of the windows at the surrounding San Rafael Valley. “Fifty years from now people will be seeing this as one of the greatest places in the world. I’ve seen maps of what Arizona is supposed to look like in 2050 and vast places like this will be the places people will want to visit.”

Clarkdale moves ahead with river access project Town and State Parks Board form agreement

[Source: Philip Wright, Verde Independent] – The town and the State Parks Board will work together to expand access to the Verde River. The Town Council voted unanimously during a special meeting March 15 to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the state to develop the Tuzigoot River Access. “The IGA is a huge benefit to the Verde River at Clarkdale plan,” said Mayor Doug Von Gausig. “It gives us an anchor location that will be where most people park to be transported up-river with their kayaks, and a place for picnics and community gatherings.” Von Gausig said this access point at Tuzigoot Bridge will once again give Clarkdale an outdoor recreation site like Peck’s Lake was years ago.

In a staff report to the council, Jodie Filardo, community/ economic development director, stated that for the town to move forward with a Heritage Fund Public Access project to expand access to the Verde River for mobility challenged individuals, site control of three parcels owned by Arizona State Parks is required. The town is currently seeking a grant from the Heritage Fund for $40,500. Filardo explained that the purpose of the IGA is to cooperatively manage and operate the site in question to develop enhanced public river access. Under the IGA the town and State Parks Board will work together to accomplish the enhanced river access. Clarkdale will provide for staffing, operation and routine maintenance of improvements made by town.

Von Gausig said that after looking at all possible locations, the town approached Deputy Parks Director Jay Ream with the idea several months ago. “We decided the best and most practical solution for Clarkdale and for State Parks would be a cooperative agreement that allows Clarkdale to manage the 70-acre Tuzigoot Bridge property,” Von Gausig said. He explained that the agreement would provide for Clarkdale to make some improvements and anchor the town’s project at the site.

“He liked it,” Von Gausig said. “We worked with Jay and others to finalize the terms of the IGA. It’s finally done.” Von Gausig said this will be the first in what the town hopes is a string of facilities along the Verde River as it flows through the Verde Valley. He said the facilities would support recreational boaters, hikers, birding enthusiasts and people who just want to get a little peace and quiet in their lives.

“This is a huge step forward for the Verde River at Clarkdale and for the Verde River,” Von Gausig said. He explained that the grant will be used for master planning the area near the Tuzigoot Bridge, to include architectural plans, roadway improvements and some fundamental improvements to the area that will enable better, more accessible recreational opportunities.

Just a few examples of what Heritage Fund has done for Florence

[Source: Bonnie Bariola,] – For those of you who do not remember, it is thanks to the town of Florence that many of the historic buildings on Main Street have been saved over the years. Through a voter initiative, in 1990 the Heritage Fund was approved by the voters of Arizona. Among other things, this fund provided $1.7 million a year toward historic preservation through a competitive grant process.

Prior to approval of the Heritage Fund, Florence’s Historic District Advisory Commission had been approached by a member of the local Knights of Columbus asking if the Commission supported the rehabilitation of the Chapel of the Gila. The Commission wholeheartedly supported this effort.

Upon receiving the initial criteria for applying for a Heritage Fund, the town’s Community Development Director determined the rehabilitation of the Chapel of the Gila would be a perfect fit. The Knight’s of Columbus member was contacted and the result was a public/private partnership between the town and the Diocese submitting an application — the town prepared and administered the grant and the Diocese provided the matching funds.

The fact that the grant application for the historic Chapel of the Gila ranked first in the first round of Historic Preservation Heritage Fund Grant applications should be mentioned. It should also be noted that before construction began, due to extreme rainfall in the spring, the east wall of the chapel collapsed. Since funding was in place it was possible to save the building; otherwise, it would have been necessary to demolish the entire building. The chapel is always one of the most visited buildings on the annual Tour of Historic Florence.

Clarke House: The William Clarke House has been saved due to the efforts of several organizations and people. Lois Stryker headed a group which put a roof on it prior to the town submitting the first Heritage Fund grant for it’s rehabilitation. Donovan Kramer Sr. then agreed to assume ownership of the property and provide the match for the grant, and the nonprofit Florence Preservation Foundation (FPF) volunteered to assume the administration of the grant. After several additional Heritage Fund Grants and many, many thousands of dollars from Mr. Kramer, this very important building on Main Street is now home to the Florence Reminder and Blade Tribune.

Silver King Hotel:
 Only with the Heritage Fund, the town of Florence, and the Florence Preservation Foundation are the people of Florence able to have the Florence/Silver King Marketplace as one of the most important buildings on Main Street today. In addition to Heritage Fund Grants and donations, it was necessary to find additional funding for this massive project. Transportation Enhancement Funds could be used for Historic Preservation but were only available to government entities. To obtain funding from this source, the FPF partnered with the town of Florence to obtain these funds. Over the years the Florence Preservation Foundation members prepared two separate applications totaling one million dollars with Town Council members approving these applications being submitted.

Each of these $500,000 grants required a $30,000 match. The town of Florence provided the match for the first grant with economic development monies it had received from the State of Arizona. A Heritage Fund grant written and submitted by the FPF provided match for the second $500,000.

McFarland Park: More recently the town assumed operation of McFarland Historic Park in order to have an additional tourist attraction for both visitors and local residents. State Parks used a portion of the Heritage Funds allocated to them to rehabilitate the building that houses the Park. Once that was completed in 2009, Jay Ream, Assistant Director of Arizona State Parks was asked what the plans for McFarland Park were.His reply was “Due to the extreme budget cuts to the parks system, the only use for McFarland is to lease it for an adaptive reuse.” This message was relayed to Town Manager Himanshu Patel, resulting in the Town Council approving a lease between the town and Arizona State Parks.

The Florence Main Street Board agreed to operate the park in addition to already operating the Florence Visitor Center. Again, after Heritage Funds made possible the rehabilitation of the building, due to a partnership between Arizona State Parks, the town of Florence and the Main Street Program, yet another building on Main Street is open to the public.

In 2010 when the Historic Preservation portion of the Heritage Fund was suspended by the Legislature, Florence had a total of five grants valued at $650,000 which were canceled or suspended. With the required matching funds, 1.3 million dollars would have been added to the local economy and five additional historic properties would have been saved.

Won’t you please contact the governor and your legislators and ask them to reinstate the Heritage Fund.