[Source; Megan Neighbor, The Arizona Republic] – In the depths of the recession, state budget cuts made it seem almost certain that the gates to manyArizonaparks would remain padlocked. But local communities and non-profit organizations have banded together to keep 14 of the state’s most financially vulnerable parks open by providing more than $820,000 to the cash-strapped Arizona State Parks agency.
For example, the Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and the towns of Payson and StarValleyare helping provide $35,000 in funding to the namesake park inGilaCounty. Through a contract with Santa Cruz County, the Tubac Historical Society is helping keepTubacPresidioStateHistoricPark’s doors open by providing both funding and operational support.RedRockState Parkin Sedona is being aided byYavapai Countyand the Benefactors of Red Rock State Park. All but one of the state’s other 13 parks remain open, albeit seasonally in some cases, because they take in enough revenue to stay in the black and fund their own operations.
Local authorities and non-profits say they decided to cast a financial lifeline to the more vulnerable parks because they recognize their value – their rich history, intense beauty and, perhaps most importantly, their economic impact. Today, less than two years after major closures seemed certain, 26 of Arizona’s 27 parks are open, although many have abbreviated schedules [to read the full article click here].
[Source: Philip Wright, Verde Independent] – Among the Governor’s Awards presented for Arizona Public Archaeology and Heritage Preservation announced June 24, was an award for the stabilization project of the Douglas Mansion at Jerome State Historic Park near Jerome. The award ceremony took place at the University Park Marriott in Tucson during the 9th Annual Arizona Historic Preservation Conference. The DouglasMansionproject was recognized as a partnership among ArizonaState Parks, YavapaiCounty, the Town of Jeromeand the Jerome Historical Society.
The Jerome State Historic Park, with the Douglas Mansion as its centerpiece, reopened Oct. 14, after the stabilization project was completed. The popular state park was closed suddenly in February 2009 due to budget sweeps and needed repairs. No one was expecting the park to reopen in the foreseeable future. But a partnership of sorts among the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, the State Parks Board, the Douglas family and the Town of Jerome gave the park new life. The partnership brought about the reopening of the park much sooner than expected.
Chip Davis, county supervisor for District 3, convinced the board to kick in $30,000. TheDouglas family chipped in $15,000, and the State Parks Heritage Fund came up with grants for the project. TheDouglasMansion was built in 1916 by Jimmy “Rawhide” Douglas, and it became a state park in 1965. Douglas designed the mansion as a home for his family and as a hotel for mining officials and investors. Originally, the mansion featured a billiard room, wine cellar and steam heat. Built from adobe bricks made on site, the home was well ahead of the times with a central vacuum system. Now the museum features many exhibits, mining artifacts, photographs, minerals and a three-dimensional model of Jerome with its underground mines and tunnels.
After the Arizona Legislature swept $8.6 million from its State Parks to help prop up its ailing general fund, the State Parks Board decided in January it had no choice but to close 13 more of its 27 parks.
Four state parks had already closed in 2009, including Jerome State Historic Park, home to a mining museum in the 100-year-old Douglas mansion, during mansion renovations.
The Parks Board voted to close Red Rocks State Park near Sedona on June 3. It is a 286-acre nature preserve along Oak Creek. It was $202,000 in the red last year.
The board decided not to close parks that make money, including the 423-acre Dead Horse State Park along the Verde River in Cottonwood. It was $19,000 in the black last year.
The board also decided in January that the neighboring 480-acre Verde River Greenway State Natural Area would remain open, too, but State Parks officials decided to manage it “passively,” without patrols or improvements, said Renee Bahl, Arizona State Parks executive director.
The Parks Board gave at least one state park in Yavapai County, Fort Verde, a temporary reprieve.
By Feb. 22, two more parks had closed.
Throughout the remainder of 2010, local communities and counties including Yavapai negotiated with the state to keep some of the parks open and reopen others.
A last-ditch effort by Rep. Andy Tobin of Paulden to find more state money for the parks didn’t work. Toward the end of the Legislature’s 2010 session in April, Tobin tried to use money from the state’s “Growing Smarter” fund for the parks. Democrats killed the measure, saying it would have allowed use of voter-approved money for a purpose unrelated to the purchase of open space.
Later that month, the state’s iconic Arizona Highways Magazine launched an effort to help the parks by donating $5 of every new annual $24 subscription to the parks.
In all, the Arizona Legislature cut state park money from $28 million a few years ago to $18 million.
State Parks officials say their parks pump $266 million into rural Arizona economies by attracting 2.3 million visitors annually and producing 3,000 leisure jobs.
That includes $36.6 million for Yavapai County’s economy and 494 jobs here, according to a State Parks study.
By May, the Arizona State Parks board already had cut enough deals with local communities and supporters to keep all but five of the parks from being closed.
A Yavapai County coalition won the governor’s Innovation in Economic Development award in October for finding a way to keep the Fort Verde and Red Rock state parks open and to re-open Jerome’s. The county joined forces with local municipalities, historical societies and support groups.
All five of the state parks in Yavapai County are located in the Verde Valley and Sedona regions, so Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis of Cottonwood was instrumental in those parks negotiations.
Apache and Santa Cruz were the first counties to offer deals to keep their parks open. Apache offered money to keep Lyman Lake open, and Santa Cruz offered to operate the park that is home to the historic Tubac Presidio, for example.
Payson and other local supporters joined monetary forces to keep Tonto Natural Bridge from closing in September.
One Indian tribe, the Hopi, also got involved after the state closed Homolovi Ruins State Park, home to Hopi ancestors. The tribe, one of the few in Arizona without a casino, initially provided $175,000 for the park in October.
The state bought Homolovi in 1993 to stop looting of its ancient pueblos.
“Hopi became worried that once again, the pot hunters could start desecrating our ancient homelands,” said Cedric Kuwaninvaya, a Hopi council member.
[Editor’s Note: While the Arizona Heritage Alliance has serious reservations and questions about privatization of state agencies, we offer the reader what’s being said and written about the topic — and other related topics — from news and editorial pages from across the state. The source of the following editorial is thePrescott Daily Courier.]
When Arizona lawmakers said “tough decisions” are ahead in dealing with the state budget, they were not kidding. Arizona currently faces an estimated shortfall of nearly $900 million and, with education taking the lion’s share of the budget, cuts likely will be deep and painful.
Enter into the equation two recommendations the 11-member state commission on privatization and efficiency has floated: privatizing at least some state parks and increasing the state’s use of privately operated prisons.
The panel’s members have not projected potential savings – they submitted a preliminary report several months ago and now are preparing a larger report due Dec. 31 – but one of the two “targets” appears to be rather simple, and the other certainly would be contentious.
The first – privatizing some state parks – is the rather simple one. Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer is a member of the commission, and it was Yavapai County that was part of a partnership that saved state parks from the budget axe.
Was it a private effort? No. However, these three parks attract more than 150,000 visitors each year and if the state can find more entities, even private ones, to take on the task – more power to them.
The sticky concept of utilizing more private prisons is an unpopular one locally and statewide.
It was in Prescott Valley that an effort failed this past spring to bring a prison to a site just outside of the town’s boundaries. Widespread public opposition and lack of support from a majority of the Prescott Valley Town Council prompted prison officials to abandon the site.
Also, the topic became even more controversial across the West after the July 30 escape of three violent offenders from a private prison near Kingman. Serious lapses were found in both the prison’s security operations and the state’s monitoring, according to the Associated Press. The escapees were recaptured but two of them and an accomplice are accused of committing a double homicide in New Mexico while at large.
Arizona uses private prisons to house about 5,500 of its 40,000 inmates, but expanding the use of private prisons is an uphill battle.
Yes, privatize the parks – as long as the responsible party maintains service. For the prisons, good luck. That will be about as popular as cutting financing for education, which legislators have said is not off the table. What’s certain is the state is running out of options.