Superstition Mountains, gold draw tourists to Apache Junction

[Source: Rachael Myer, Aug. 10, 2010]

Photographers travel hundreds of miles to take pictures of wildflowers blooming at the base of the Superstition Mountains.

Miners still disappear in the ridges looking for the fabled lost gold.

Lost Dutchman State Park’s saguaro cactus, ocotillo plants, and wild javelina draw tourists from all over the world.

With a challenging economy, Apache Junction is launching a tourism effort fused around the park’s beauty and mystique.

The timing seems just right to center a tourism push on the park. This spring the community rallied in droves to save Lost Dutchman from possible closure and the park recently received $1 million in grants for capital improvements.

Now city officials are distributing brochures, creating online videos, and planning downtown revitalization efforts to boost the East Valley city’s economy.

Lost Dutchman’s support, capital improvements

Public support for Lost Dutchman State Park appears to never have been more abundant.

Residents from nearby communities raised $26,000 this spring to keep the park open after a lack of state funding threatened to close it.

Donations came rolling in.

Taylor H. Sanford Jr., a Texas resident who winters in Mesa, donated $8,000. Haley Anderson, 12, led the fundraising effort at Mesa’s Smith Junior High School and collected $1,431. Superstition Harley-Davidson sponsored a motorcycle ride that generated $10,000.

The Friends of the Lost Dutchman State Park formed after the closure threat. The organization continues advocacy efforts even though the State Parks Board voted in May to keep the park open.

Capital improvements to the park over the summer will help to attract more visitors and enable them to stay longer, officials said.

Installing electricity at 38 campsites and constructing an additional restroom and shower will allow campers to enjoy air conditioning in their recreational vehicles, and encourage longer stays in the campgrounds.

The $1 million project, funded through federal and state grants, is expected to be completed in the fall.

Officials hope campers will spend more money at the local grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants. About 100,000 visitors – almost half from outside of Arizona – come to the park each year.

The park generates a significant economic boost of $4 million. More than 45 jobs are indirectly tied to the park, according to the state park system.

Mitzi Rinehart has led hikes and educated visitors at the park for nine years. She has met people who have traveled from Scotland, Germany, and Italy.

“They’ve all heard about the Superstition mines and the gold,” the 75-year-old park volunteer said. “They say have you found the gold yet? I’ll say if I had, do you think I’d be standing here?”

Rinehart enjoys the park most of all for the Superstition Mountains’ beauty.

“There’s more quality to a life if you get nature in it and you understand it,” she said. “You take time out for reflection.”

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Apache Junction weighs annexation of Lost Dutchman Park

[Source: Arizona Republic, Jim Walsh, 1-27-2010] — Apache Junction officials are so worried about economic fallout from the planned closure of Lost Dutchman State Park that they are considering annexing the iconic landmark.  Apache Junction economic development director Steve Filipowicz said city officials are studying whether annexation would be feasible and whether it would make sense financially.  Annexing the park could keep it open and preserve the estimated $4 million in economic impact the park provides from tourism.

At minimum, annexation would serve as a justification for city police officers to patrol the park to discourage vandalism, Filipowicz said.  The move comes as cities, towns, counties and community groups from Flagstaff to Tubac are contemplating measures that would have been unthinkable only a few short years ago as they struggle to preserve some of Arizona’s natural and historic treasures in the face of deep budget cuts.  Reacting to the Legislature’s decision in December to cut $8.6 million from the state parks budget, the Arizona State Parks Board voted earlier this month to take the unprecedented step of closing 21 of the 30 parks in the state system.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Havens of nature, Arizona’s history fall to cuts

[Source: Arizona Daily Star, Doug Kreutz, 1-24-2010] — Wildflower lovers might want to plan a farewell visit to Picacho Peak State Park this spring — even if it’s not a banner year for blooms.  The park, a mecca for fans of wildflower color, is scheduled to close June 3 — and officials don’t know.  “Voting to close these parks was one of the hardest moments of my life,” said Reese Woodling, a Tucson resident and chairman of the Arizona State Parks Board.  “I love Arizona and I love our parks.  To see this happening just makes me sick to my stomach.”  When, or if, it will reopen.

Picacho Peak, about 40 miles northwest of Tucson, is one of 13 state parks slated for closure in a phased sequence from Feb. 22 to June 3.  Other Southern Arizona parks closing their gates are Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Roper Lake State Park, and Lost Dutchman State Park.  The reason: a budget shortfall of $8.6 million.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

All but one Arizona state park in Pinal County will close

[Source: Florence Reminder, Bonnie Bariola 1-21-2010] — Of the five Arizona State Parks located in Pinal County, only one is slated to remain open.  The reason being that in 1976 the Arizona State Parks Board entered into an agreement with the Boyce Thompson Arboretum Board and the University of Arizona to cooperatively manage the park.  All funding for the Arboretum from the Arizona State Parks Board will stop, leaving the Arboretum to be funded through the University of Arizona and the Boyce Thompson Foundation.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park: Located just west of Superior on US 60, the Arboretum was founded in the 1920s by mining magnate Col. William Boyce Thompson.  In 1917 Col. Thompson served as co-leader of a Red Cross mercy mission to Russia, where he came to understand the importance of plants as the ultimate source of a large portion of mankind’s food, clothing, and shelter.  It was then that he determined to use his great wealth to improve the use of plant resources.  The Arboretum is one of his legacies.

Encompassing 323 acres, the Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden.  It was the first purely botanical institution in the intermountain states.  Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is the place to discover the intricate beauty and many faces of Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden.  Featured are plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]