Saving Arizona’s State Parks

[Source: Preservation Magazine]

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

When Arizona, faced with a massive budget crisis, announced plans in January to close 13 state parks, Shaw Kinsley learned that the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park was included on the list.

“The park was conceived to boost tourism in our little artist town,” says Kinsley, the president of the Tubac Historical Society. “It would have been devastating” to lose it.

Tubac, located 45 minutes south of Tucson, relies on income from cultural tourism to keep the economy strong, Kinsley says. “We had to come up with a plan.”

Renee Bahl, the executive director of Arizona State Parks, facilitated a solution, organizing an unprecedented public-private partnership between the state, county, and Tubac Historical Society. The agreement gives the society the authority to operate the 11-acre park for one year, with an annual renewal option. The arrangement has a “silver lining,” Bahl says. “Now we have a strong partnership with preservation communities that will never go away.”

Since the agreement, Tubac’s shops and art galleries have donated $15,000 of their profits towards park operations, and an additional $20,000 have come from individuals and other non-profit organizations. Volunteers have worked to keep the site open five days every week. Visitor rates are up slightly, too, Kinsley says. This summer, traditionally the slow season, tourists from 26 different states have come. More volunteers are still needed, however, to create rotating exhibits and lead gallery tours.

“Now that we have the park open, we need to pump up our marketing to get the word out,” Kinsley says. “We need to give people a reason to keep coming back.”

By negotiating such agreements between the state and local governments and communities, Bahl has managed to keep 23 of the 28 parks open.

“You may not see any park ranger,” at sites like Tubac, Bahl says, “but there are others that are ensuring the parks are preserved and protected.”

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