Federal stimulus funds can be used for parks & recreation, says NRPA

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is touting a major victory for communities across America in the negotiations over the economic stimulus bill that is to be considered by both houses of Congress.  In the language agreed by House and Senator conferees, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will allow communities to use funding from programs such as Community Development Block Grants, transportation infrastructure, and the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund to support community parks.  Without the work of NRPA members and staff, the bill would have explicitly restricted communities from using these funds to support parks and recreation.  

Read how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will benefit parks and recreation.  For more information, call or e-mail Mike Phillips or Ashley Futrell, 202-887-0290.

State legislators agree to Tonto bridge town hall meeting

The closed signs went up Thursday afternoon at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (Photo: Tom Brossart, Roundup).

[Source: Pete Aleshire, Payson Roundup] — As rangers on Thursday bolted an orange square blaring “closed” on the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park sign, Rim Country leaders rallied support to force a reversal of the decision.  A steady stream of people and reporters made their way to the park on Thursday, anxious to have a last look before the indefinite closure imposed mostly to shift staff members to other parks.

State representatives Bill Konopnicki and Jack Brown both agreed to attend a Town Hall meeting next Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Best Western Conference room on Highway 87 across from the Swiss Village.  In addition, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce Manager John Stanton, and other community leaders have an appointment to meet with state Sen. Sylvia Allen on Wednesday in Phoenix.  “This place does not have to close,” said an indignant Stanton at the entrance to the park on Thursday.  “We’re one of 11 communities being held hostage because the state parks board needs the money.”

After the legislature swept $35 million from various state park funds, the state parks board voted to close indefinitely 11 of the 27 parks in the system.  Now, state park officials hope the legislature will let them borrow money from the $68 million that has accumulated in the voter-established Land Conservation Fund.  House Bill 2088 would allow state parks and other agencies to borrow $20 million from that fund and repay in 2012.  Voters originally established the fund to buy state trust land for use as open space around cities.

Stanton said community leaders hope to convince the lawmakers to restore enough money to the state parks budget to keep Tonto Natural Bridge and other parks open.  The park draws nearly 100,000 visitors annually and park managers say January’s increase in entrance fees from $3 to $4 would have made the park entirely self-supporting this year.

Economic impact studies show that the park generates $3.5 million in revenue for local, tourism-dependent business.  Equally important, the park gives Rim County a national and international identity, as evidenced by how many people every day pull into the chamber’s visitor information office to find out how to get to the bridge.  “Our message (to the legislators) is if you want to have enough people left up here to re-elect you… don’t close this park,” said Stanton.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Lyman Lake State Park spared for now, but still on the chopping block

Penny Pew expresses support for keeping Lyman Lake State Park open.

[Source: Karen Warnick, The White Mountain Independent] — Once more Lyman Lake State Park, located near St. Johns, escaped closure by the State Parks Board, but it still remains on the chopping block along with seven other parks.  The board met Friday, Feb. 20, to decide the fate of more than a third of Arizona’s 27 parks.  The meeting took place at the Peoria City Council chamber room due to the large number of people expected to attend.  The meeting started at 9 a.m. and lasted until 3 p.m. with a 30-minute lunch break. 

Residents from around the state showed up to support keeping the parks open.  County and city law enforcement officials, members of non-profit and grassroots organizations, and private citizens spoke before the board during the call to the public.  Several individuals representing Apache and Navajo counties, including Apache County Sheriff Joseph Dedmon and Navajo County Supervisor Jesse Thompson, were at the meeting.  Penny Pew, representing a community group from the White Mountains, spoke to the board.  Pew presented the board with letters from Apache County Supervisor R. John Lee, the mayors of Pinetop-Lakeside, Eagar and St. Johns, the chambers of St. Johns and Springerville-Eagar, St. Johns Unified School District Superintendent Larry Heap, and over 100 students from St. Johns. 

In his letter, Lee said, “On behalf of the citizens of Apache County, this letter is an expression of Apache County’s support for continued operation of Lyman Lake State Park, which is vital to its residents and nonresidents in providing recreation and economic benefits.”  Eagar Mayor Kim Holaway said, “Apache County is one of the poorest counties in the state and is considered entirely rural.  Rural communities have fewer resources to draw upon than the larger cities in our state.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Heritage Watch (what has Arizona state government shuttered?)

It’s been two weeks since the thermometer in the middle and right have been up.  Jerome, McFarland, and Tonto state parks remain closed.  State Archives patrons and the general public expressed their displeasure to state legislators and archives staff so much so that the facility was reopened two days per week “by appointment only.”

Today we add one more thermometer (the one on the left) to let you know of the plight of 25 Arizona communities that were told by Arizona State Parks on February 2, 2009 to “stop immediately, effective February 1, 2009″ 38 Arizona Heritage Fund Historic Preservation Grant projects, despite the fact that contracts had been signed, materials and supplies were ordered and shipped, and construction work was still underway.  And oh by the way, you won’t get paid for the work that was completed; the State is taking the money back.

Since then, two projects, over 90% complete, were told they could finish their work (and be paid).  The other 36 have been “suspended” until further notice, and individuals, non-profit organizations, and local governments are scrambling to figure out how to pay for the work that everyone agreed to.  Apparently in Arizona, a hand shake and a signed contract mean nothing.

Click here to view a map of the affected projects and Arizona communities.