Tombstone refuses to let state park die

[Source: Maria Polletta, Cronkite News Service. via Tucson Sentinel]

Maria Polletta/Cronkite News Service

It’s around 90 degrees outside and Mary Evans is buttoned up in a long-sleeved, high-collared white blouse that’s fastened at the neck with a black cameo. A black wool skirt, worn over bloomers, skims the top of her black boots.

It looks uncomfortable, but Evans doesn’t seem to mind.

After six years of volunteer work at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Evans says she still gets caught up every time she browses the cases of wedding dresses, children’s shoes, dolls and toys.

“Everything in the courthouse is special,” Evans said.

Evans couldn’t imagine losing the iconic building when budget cuts threatened funding for 19 of the state’s 28 parks, including the courthouse, earlier this year.

Neither could leaders of this former silver-mining town, which draws tourists from all over the world with attractions like the OK Corral and Boothill Graveyard.

Under an arrangement with Arizona State Parks, the city of Tombstone took over the courthouse April 1. A professional service agreement allows the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce to oversee park operations for at least three years, with two more two-year terms possible.

Since the courthouse changed hands, park hours have been extended from five to seven days a week, and volunteers have traded in state parks uniforms for period wear, said Patricia Moreno, the park’s manager. Staff and volunteers have also been working to create “living history,” such as trial re-enactments in the courthouse’s upstairs courtroom.

The number of visitors was 20 percent higher in April, May and June this year than in the same period last year, Moreno said.

Jay Ream, assistant director of Arizona State Parks, said things seem to be going well at the other four state parks now entirely operated by cities or other entities as well as the eight parks that receive funding from partners but are still operated by state parks staff.

“We’re glad they stepped up,” Ream said. “There have been minimal problems with these transitions. It’s gone very smoothly, and it’s been done very well.”

The state parks operations budget was reduced from about $28 million two years ago to about $18 million as lawmakers addressed the budget deficit.

“If not for our partners, many of our parks would have been closed,” Ream said.

Tombstone Mayor Dustin Escapule said he didn’t hesitate to step in when he got word of the decision to close down the courthouse.

“Really in one meeting (with state and local officials), we decided, ‘OK, this is how it can work, and this is what will happen,'” Escapule said.

He said feedback since the transition has been “positive, positive, positive,” not only from the citizens of Tombstone but from the state.

“Tombstone has really stepped up and claimed ownership of the courthouse,” said Patrick Greene, executive director of the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce.

Greene said the park is currently making a profit, which is used to improve the park.

“Based on our success, I would think that state parks would most likely allow us to continue, but it depends on the elected people in office and the philosophy at the state level,” Greene said.

Ream said that even if the state does assume control of the parks again, it may not be under the old model.

“Will we be able to manage (the parks) the same way? Possibly not,” he said. “We might be doing it through private partnerships or even sponsorships.

“But the goal of the Arizona State Parks Board is to keep the parks open to the public, whatever that takes.”

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Black Bear spotted at Lake Havasu State Park


Photo submitted to

Authorities said they believe Lake Havasu State Park’s black bear may have moved on in the cover of darkness Sunday night.

“We didn’t trap the bear,” said Dee Pfleger, Arizona Game and Fish wildlife manager. “It could have slipped out under the cover of darkness. We will keep looking for signs of the bear at the park.”

Lake Havasu State Park officials said Monday that fresh tracks and bear droppings were found north of the park and that suggested the bear may have left Havasu. Pfleger confirmed the findings were on the access road heading down to the PWC ramp.

The state park, which was closed to visitors early Monday, has since reopened.

Shane Ray, 43, said he spotted the bear swimming offshore about 500 yards from the north ramp. He switched off his trolling motor and started making phone calls to friends, Arizona State Parks officials, Arizona Game and Fish Department to report the sighting.

“I saw this big black object in the water,” he said. “It was swimming toward the California side. It kept swimming out there for about 20 minutes. It never growled at me or never lunged toward my boat. It seemed scared and it looked tired.

“It was breathing very, very hard and I was afraid he was going to drown, and I didn’t want to see that happen. So I forced him up on the shore,” Ray continued.

Ray said he was within six feet of the swimming black bear.

Ray said officials from the agencies told him the animal was likely a wild pig or badger. Ray insisted it was a black bear, telling them he had photographs. Authorities then asked Ray how much he had had to drink that day, he said.

“I wanted everybody to see it. I couldn’t believe it myself,” Ray said. “It really surprised me. I was astonished.”

Ray, who is on the water fishing four or five days a week, said the bear is an unusual type of wildlife he has scene on the water.

“I really want to see (the bear) captured and relocated,” Ray said. “This is personal to me now.”

Pfleger said while hiking or walking make as much noise as possible to let any wild animals know you are nearby, don’t approach the animal and make yourself as big as possible.

“We are not actively looking for the bear, but are encouraging if someone sees the bear they need to call the Arizona Game and Fish hotline at 800-352-0700 to reach the dispatch center in Phoenix,” Plefer said.

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Now is the time to get involved in State Parks funding debate

[Source: Camp Verde Bugle]

The last state budget debacle over funding for Arizona State Parks caught many unawares and tripping over their own feet to figure out what was going on. The state was already deep into the process of deciding cutbacks and closures before some support groups could organize.

That cannot be the case for the next budget battle – and it is already starting. The time to get involved is now.

Eleventh-hour brain-storming sessions and negotiations can lead to short-term solutions, as evidenced by last budget cycle’s results, but fixing funding problems for the foreseeable future demands more than that.

This time, instead of waiting until February or March or May, those concerned about the sustainability of the State Parks program need to jump in at the start.

The Verde Valley and Sedona have particular interest in this process because five Arizona State Parks are ensconced here. Current funding for three of them are a patchwork of local, county and state monies and volunteers, and that is only temporary.

Jerome has known the frustration of full closure, and Camp Verde and Sedona have felt the cost of keeping a park open. It has been a sweat-inducing exercise, but it has certainly left the communities with a feeling of ownership.

The way the state has provided funding for state parks and used money created by state parks has not been principled, but it has been allowed. It needs to change if parks are to have a future. A governor’s commission is pushing for more privatization of services currently provided by government, and some issues connected to state parks are being eyeballed in that regard.

After the breather afforded by intergovernmental agreements to keep parks open this year, municipalities are already looking again at their relationship to Arizona State Parks. And Thursday, Sept. 30, at the Sedona Library, several groups and elected officials will have a public discussion of proposals and possible solutions to the funding problems.

It is a dilemma that cannot wait again. If the state parks landscape is to be preserved, now is the time to get involved.

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Catalina State Park Offers Kids a $2 Adventure

[Source: Explorer News]

Does your child wonder how wild animals live and thrive in the Sonoran Desert?

Starting this fall, and continuing through the 2010-’11 school year, elementary school groups can arrange to visit Catalina State Park on the east edge of Oro Valley and participate in activities that teach how animals use the five senses to negotiate their environment.

It’s called The Adventure Program, sponsored by Arizona State Parks.

The two-hour program is open to students in grades 1-3 from public, charter, private and home schools. Tours can be arranged by the classroom teacher, a release said. The entry fee is $2 per student.

Over the years, “thousands of Pima and Pinal county students have participated and enjoyed a morning of fun-filled learning activities in an Arizona state park,” the release continued.

REI of Tucson is helping to sponsor this program by providing trail stools for students to use while participating.

For more information, contact program coordinators Andrew and Joanne Hogan at 520-903-4367, e-mail, or go to the park website.

[You can also download Adventure Program Info HERE (PDF Document 807 KB PDF)]

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