New Rye billboard draws attention to Tonto Natural Bridge

[Source: Alexis Bechman, Payson Roundup]

If the size of the Tonto Natural Bridge wasn’t big enough to attract visitors, an ad in Rye is sure to catch their attention.

On Tuesday, a 40-foot billboard was plastered with the bridge’s mug shot along with the message “Visit the World’s Largest Natural Travertine Bridge.”

Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park hope the ad will attract more visitors to just one of many state parks struggling to stay open with attendance numbers down along with state funding.

In 2008, approximately 93,000 people visited the bridge, but in the last two years, visitation has dropped considerably due to short-term closures and rumors of permanent closures by the state of Arizona.

The Friends group, along with Gila County, the Town of Payson and the Town of Star Valley, have worked tirelessly with the Arizona State Parks Foundation and the Arizona State Parks Board to assure the park remains open.

Currently, the park is open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is $5 for adults over the age of 14 and $2 for children ages 7-13.

The Friends group worked with American Outdoor Advertising to design and fund the billboard.

“The Friends group cannot thank American Outdoors enough for all they have contributed to make this billboard possible,” said Friends president Derek Shreiner. “Troy Carlson, an account executive for American Outdoors, was fundamental in the production of the sign and is providing the Rim Country with a major opportunity to attract visitors.”

Visitors to Tonto Natural Bridge not only help keep the bridge open, but also help generate sales to local Rim Country businesses, Shreiner said.

The Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge is looking for new members to assist in the continuation of the bridge operation. Assistance can be provided through volunteer efforts at the bridge, financial support and volunteering for Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge activities.

For more information on becoming a friend or volunteer, call the chamber of commerce at (928) 474-4515.

Current board members include Shreiner, vice president John Stanton, treasurer John Wilson, secretary Margaret Jones, Bill Armbruster, Cameron Davis, Bill Ensign, Kenny Evans, Bill Rappaport, Courtney Rogers and Bob Sweetwood.


Quartermaster depot played key role for Army and Yuma

[Source: Chris McDaniel, Yuma Sun]

Yuma Sun File Photo

The U.S. military has had a presence in Yuma County for more 160 years and was instrumental in getting local communities established.

The Yuma Quartermaster Depot opened in 1864, resulting in Yankee soldiers in blue uniforms to be permanently stationed in the area to oversee the distribution of supplies brought up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California.

Today, the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park at 201 N. 4th Ave. is open to the public and boasts five buildings that have stood for more than a century.

“The fact that literally Yuma was founded and based on its connection with the U.S. military is significant,” Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, said of the depot.

And the military is still here today. They are even more important to our economy and to our community.

However, if it had not been for the efforts of local citizens, the park would now be closed.

“Back in mid-2009 Arizona State Parks announced they were going to close this park because of budget cuts,” Flynn said.

We were able to work with the city and get some support from them and worked with the Yuma Visitors Bureau to move their welcome center into that site. We were able to pull the resources together through a joint effort and keep the park open and operating.

Flynn said the depot is an essential part of the historic North End.

We have always sort of assumed these national historic landmarks would always be there, but when the Hilton Garden Inn opened up there on the riverfront in April of 2009, within 60 days the state was talking about closing the Quartermaster Depot, which is directly adjacent to the hotel. We had designed this plan over 11 years to integrate all of these amenities, and to all of a sudden lose them just didn’t make any sense.

The depot was far too significant a resource to lose, Flynn said.

Frankly, these were community resources the community had worked long and hard to preserve and keep, and that is why the committee stepped up.

According to the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, the depot’s storied past began during the height of the American Civil War but matured during the Indian Wars of the 1870s.

During this period, the U.S. Army on the western frontier spent much of its time fighting with Native American tribes as the federal government attempted to force them onto reservations.

In 1877, the Southern Pacific Railroad line reached Yuma and construction continued into the interior of Arizona. With the railroad, the military could ship supplies much cheaper and faster than previously allowed, and the Yuma Depot along the Colorado River was no longer needed.

Largely abandoned by the late 1870s, the depot officially closed in 1883 after the quartermaster moved to Fort Lowell in Tucson.

The Signal Corps, having arrived at Fort Yuma and the Quartermaster Depot in 1875, remained there until 1891. After the departure of the Signal Corps, the property was transferred to the control of the U.S. Weather Service, which worked out of the depot site until 1949.

Other federal government agencies would also use the old buildings over the years. These agencies included the Bureau of Reclamation and Customs Service.

According to the city of Yuma Visitors Center, the depot was identified as a possible historic park in the early 1960s.

Groundbreaking for the park was held in 1986 after the land was purchased from the U.S. Department of the Interior by the city of Yuma and donated to the state park system.

In 1990 the Yuma Crossing Foundation Inc. established an agreement with the state parks board to manage, develop and operate the site as a living history museum.

After seven years of construction and rebuilding, the park was opened to the public in 1997 and is now part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. For more information about the park, call 329-0471.

Taking state parks totally private a bad idea—Grady Gammage Jr.

[Source: Grady Gammage Jr.,  Special for the Arizona Republic]

If you only caught the recent news headline, “Arizona state parks system would run better privately, study says” (Valley & State, Jan. 12), you might quickly surmise we should privatize state parks like we’re doing with prisons.

Not so fast. The headline does not reflect the full content or context of the story. Nor does it reflect what the cited report or prior studies examining Arizona state parks truly recommend when it comes to privatization.

In fall 2009, Morrison Institute for Public Policy issued “The Price of Stewardship: The Future of Arizona’s State Parks.” The report looked at the parks system and the agency that runs the parks, and examined what it would take to create a sustainable future.

One of the primary findings was that the park system had been starved by the Legislature, including of money parks take in, leaving it totally at the mercy of general-fund appropriations.

In 2010 the general-fund appropriation for parks was zero. That’s not a typo.

A task force appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer reviewed the report’s cost-saving and revenue-producing options, and made recommendations – including a combination of local partnerships, increased concessionaire use and a modest surcharge on license plates that would give Arizona residents automatic access to the parks.

Both the task force and Morrison Institute report recognized there are inherently public functions connected to parks, such as educational programs, that deserve and require public financial support to survive.

Unfortunately, as the task force reviewed the “big picture” of state parks, Arizona’s budget crisis deepened. Its recommendations went nowhere, lost in the tide of red ink that overwhelms our state.

In reacting to the report and the task-force recommendations, some commentators and lawmakers seized on the concept of “privatization” as the silver bullet for dealing with the parks system, rather than as a component of a more comprehensive solution.

A subsequent report, “The Arizona State Park Privatization and Efficiency Plan,” issued in December by the Arizona State Parks Foundation and conducted by private-consulting firm PROS Consulting, examines specifically the potential for privatization. Some key points:

  • Even in the downturn, Arizona’s state parks represent a tremendous return on investment. The PROS study estimates $223 million in economic benefit to the state in 2010.
  • There is potential for much greater private-sector involvement in managing the parks, primarily in the area of concessions, maintenance and recreational use. And there is potential for local partnerships, reinforcing a task-force finding.
  • Private management of public assets requires serious oversight by the public; privatization does not mean the state can escape all effort and cost.
  • Arizona should give serious consideration to the creation of a quasi-governmental agency to manage the park system. This is similar to what the state is doing with economic development, through the creation of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

Both the Morrison Institute report and the PROS report highlight the real tragedy of our parks system: Arizona State Parks has not been given a fair chance to prove itself. While we say we want it to operate more like an enterprise, since 2003, through various mechanisms, the Legislature has “swept” away portions – or all – of what Arizona State Parks has earned.

No private operator could run a business if its operating income was taken away. It is unfair to Arizona State Parks to expect it to do so. Perhaps a quasi-governmental structure could restore sanity to this equation and save our parks.

Attorney, land-use expert and educator Grady Gammage Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Feds Threaten Major Cuts to Historic Preservation Grants

[Source: Ryan Holeywell,]

President Obama and the GOP don’t tend to agree on much these days. But they’ve found common ground in one unusual place: Both want to cut millions of dollars in historic preservation grants.

This week, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), a GOP deputy whip and member of the Republican Study Committee’s steering committee, introduced a bill that would cut $150 billion over five years through nearly 50 types of spending reductions across the board.

Some of the cuts are politically charged, like rescinding voluntary payments to the United Nations and eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Others are common-sense proposals taken from the president’s fiscal commission, such as requiring the sale of excess federal property and reducing federal travel costs.

A little-noticed proposal was a plan to eliminate two programs that fund historic preservation grants: Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America.

According to a House-issued breakdown of Brady’s proposal:

This amendment would eliminate funding for the Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America Program, as called for by the President who said both programs are duplicative and underperforming.

The Preserve America Grant Program was established in 2003 (as) a grant program within (the Department of the Interior) to provide ‘planning funding to support preservation efforts through heritage tourism, education, and historic preservation planning.’

The Save America’s Treasures Program in Department of Interior awards grants to preserve historically significant properties. This account is also heavily earmarked. $4.6 million is appropriated for Preserve in FY 2010 and $25 million is appropriated for Save. The Department of the Interior oversees multiple, overlapping historic preservation programs. Additionally, every federal agency is required to maintain a historic preservation program and must appoint a historic preservation officer and comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition, there are numerous other federal grant programs and tax provisions aimed at historic preservation.

But Patrick J. Lally, director of congressional affairs for The National Trust for Historic Preservation, said Brady is downplaying the grants’ significance. Save America’s Treasures is the only federal grant dedicated exclusively to physical restoration of nationally significant sites, and it represents a significant portion of all federal funding for historic preservation.

The historic preservation fund, which is part of the Department of Interior, is usually funded at about $75 million to $78 million, and Save America’s Treasures usually makes up about $25 million to $30 million of that total. Eliminating it would be a huge blow to federal preservation efforts, Lally tells FedWatch. “It’s not like when lawmakers propose elimination of these funds they go to another account within the historic preservation fund,” Lally says. “They go away.”

Save America’s Treasures has provided funding to restore the Montgomery bus where Rosa Parks made her stand, the workshop where Thomas Edison created his inventions and the cottage to which President Lincoln retreated during hot Washington summers, among other projects. Since its 1998 launch, it has provided nearly $294 million to more than 1,100 preservation projects.

While Save America’s Treasures focuses on physical work, Preserve America grants provide funding for things like marketing, research and digitizing records — ancillary work that helps to promote “heritage tourism” to cultural and natural sites. For example, Honolulu was awarded $150,000 to develop programs to showcase its Chinatown, and Oxford, Miss. received $75,000 to fund exhibits about the life of Supreme Court Justice L.Q.C. Lamar in his historic home. Preserve America has provided more than $17 million in grants to more than 225 projects.

This time, the programs are being targeted by a House Republican. But a year ago, it was President Obama who proposed cutting the programs in his 2010-2011 budget. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog that they “lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear.”

That decision was especially unusual, given that the White House has previously been a supporter of the programs. In March 2009, Obama signed legislation that permanently authorized them, and in December of that year, First Lady Michelle Obama touted Save America’s Treasures as a way to “empower communities all over the country to rescue and restore this priceless heritage.”

Lally says he believes Obama’s proposal to cut the programs last year was an oversight. Congress ultimately preserved funding for the programs, largely due to the fact that Save America’s Treasures has a record of creating jobs (16,000 since its inception), Lally says. The White House’s budget will be released next month, and preservations are anxiously waiting to see whether it will against target the two programs, like Brady has already done. And given that deficit reduction has been the theme repeated ad nauseum by the new House Republican leadership, the future of the programs could be in jeopardy.

The fact that the two programs are fighting for their survival is especially ironic, considering the $29.6 allotted to them is a pittance of the overall federal budget. Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, tells FedWatch she doesn’t know why preservation funding is being targeted, especially since it’s basically “decimal dust” in the grand scheme of things.

“That’s something you’ll have to ask the bill drafters,” she says.