Advocates work toward completion of Prescott Circle Trail

[Source: Cindy Barks, The Daily Courier] – What started as a modest trails effort around local equestrian Jan Alfano’s dining-room table more than 20 years ago appeared to gain steam this week toward its possible finishing point. Although no decisions occurred on Tuesday, members of the Prescott City Council appeared receptive to a proposal to use about $120,000 of streets/open space sales tax revenue to lease about 6.6 miles of trail easements over Arizona State Trust Land.

The goal: a major step toward completion of the 50-mile Prescott Circle Trail.

Alfano, a founder and mainstay of the Yavapi Trails Association, was on hand Tuesday to introduce a video, “Circle of Cooperation” that includes pitches from a number of local trails advocates. “This has been a collaborative effort that’s just unbelievable,” Alfano told the council.

Prescott Trails Specialist Chris Hosking noted afterward that while the bulk of the completed Circle Trail runs across U.S. Forest Service land, sections of it also cross Bureau of Land Management land, City of Prescott land, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University land. Other entities also been have instrumental in the progress, Alfano said. For instance, she brought up the cooperation off the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the “untold hours of hard, hard work of the Over the Hill Gang (volunteer trail builders).”

The fledgling Yavapai Trails Association came up with the idea for the Prescott Circle Trail in the early 1990s, Alfano said, recalling meetings of about five people “tossing ideas around” at her Williamson Valley home. In 1993, the effort received a $9,000 Heritage Fund grant from the state to complete the first section of the circle – the 2.75-mile Turley Trail in the Government Canyon area. Several of the trails advocates on the video mentioned the tourism potential that would come with the completion of the Circle Trail. They predicted that hikers, cyclists and equestrians would travel to Prescott for the challenge of completing the 50-mile loop. Prescott Parks and Recreation Director Joe Baynes explained that a “pre-appraisal” has already taken place on the state-land easements.

A meeting between city and state officials took place in January, Baynes said, and the city’s application to the Arizona State Land Department is already in the process. Meanwhile, the $120,000 city expenditure likely would go to the City Council for a decision in about August, City Manager Craig McConnell said. “This (week’s) presentation is viewed as an introduction,” McConnell told the council.

In the preliminary 2012-13 budget, the city has allocated $500,000 toward open space acquisitions. City Attorney Gary Kidd said the city could use its open space money for the trail easement lease. “The money is there,” McConnell said. Council reaction to the idea was positive this week.

“The ball is bouncing; let’s keep it bouncing,” Councilman Steve Blair said. “The public needs to understand there is an economic benefit to the community, and it does pay for itself.” The 6.6-mile segment would run from the “P” Mountain area to the Peavine Trail area. The new stretch would connect to completed sections of the Circle Trail, which take in picturesque areas, such as Thumb Butte, Granite Mountain, and Quartz Mountain.

If the City Council approves the State Land leases, Baynes said volunteers and parks employees could have the trails built within about 10 months to a year.That would leave about a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of unfinished Circle Trail through private ranchland west of Williamson Valley Road, near the Pioneer Parkway intersection, Baynes said.

George Sheats of the Over the Hill Gang said the Yavapai Trails Association and the Open Space Alliance plan to conduct a public meeting on the project 7 p.m. June 13 at the Founders Suite of the Prescott Public Library, 215 E. Goodwin St.

Heritage Fund was great benefit to Florence; several projects were dropped when it was cut

[Source: Bonnie Bariola, Florence Blade Reminder] – If the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act is eventually approved by the voters of Arizona, the plan is for it to replace the Heritage Grant Fund managed by Arizona State Parks that the Legislature deleted from the Arizona Statutes in 2011.

From 1991 through 2006, Heritage Fund Grants added $2,887,181 to Pinal County’s economy. This breaks down to: Casa Grande $673,116, Coolidge $340,841, Superior $81,991, and Florence $1,791,233.

Projects made possible in Florence as a direct result of the Heritage Fund were:

• the William Clarke House which is now home to the Florence Reminder and Blade Tribune;

• Florence/Silver King Marketplace which provides space for four businesses in the downtown;

• The Historic Chapel of the Gila;

• Old Main at Florence High School;

Without the Heritage Funds having been available, the above structures would not have been saved for future generations.

Additional projects that utilized Heritage Funds were:

• Harvey/Niemeyer House now home to Options, A Crisis Pregnancy Center;

• Church of the Assumption;

• 2nd Pinal County Courthouse:

• Brunenkant Bakery Store Building;

• Popular/Mandell’s Department Store now True Value Hardware;

• Five homes in the Historic District.

In some instances, multiple grants were received over time for some of the above projects.

The following approved grants with signed contracts were canceled after the Legislature “swept” the funds to pay other bills: sponsored by the Florence Main Street Program — W.C. Smith & Co. Building rehab (the former Florence Market). Sponsored by The Florence Preservation Foundation — Cuen House & Butcher Shop located on N. Main Street; Denier/ White Apartment Building located across the street from the 2nd Pinal County Courthouse; and the Celaya/Long Sweeney Residence located on Ruggles across the street from the Police Department. If the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act becomes law, it is possible funds can be secured through the grant program to again begin rehabilitation of these buildings.

State Parks petitions hit the street

[Source: Steve Ayers, Camp Verde Bugle] – The move to put an initiative on the November ballot that supporters hope will stabilize and sustain Arizona’s 27 state parks, is underway. It is known as the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act. With five state parks located in the Verde Valley, along with the Verde River Greenway, the initiative is getting plenty of support locally.

“This has everything to do with the value of state parks to the Verde Valley and to Yavapai County,” says Chip Norton, president of the Friends of the Verde River Greenway. “It means a lot to our communities and the opportunities it provides for school kids as well as the residents. The tourism component is really big. The amount of money it brings into the valley is pretty phenomenal. They have been hanging on the edge for too long, forcing local communities to keep them going.” Norton and the friends group launched the petition drive at a meeting last Thursday, at a meeting in Cottonwood.

If the initiative makes the ballot and it passes, it would fund the operations of Arizona State Parks as well as the Heritage Fund, which was also raided by the Legislature, with a $14 donation attached to annual vehicle registration. The charge would be automatically added to the registration cost, but vehicle owners could opt out. Supporters hope it will raise $30 million a year. The initiative protects all money donated to the fund from legislative sweeps and re-establishes the Arizona State Parks grant program, which pays for municipal and nonprofit recreation projects across the state. It also provides for free admission to state parks for school-age children when on school sanctioned field trips and sets aside at least one day every year in which anyone could come to a state park for free.

The initiative was launched by the Arizona State Parks Foundation after House Bill 2362, which overwhelmingly passed both the house and Senate, was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. “We have been watching for some time and realized there was growing support for long-term support and a long term funding mechanism of some sort. So we began forming a coalition,” says ASPF Director Christy Statler. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was the governor’s veto. And no legislator wanted to stick their neck out for a referral to the voters, so we mobilized and are moving forward with the Arizona Natural Resources Act.”

Volunteers will be circulating petitions around the valley over the next few weeks. To get on the ballot, 175,000 signatures will need to be collected statewide by the July 5 deadline.

Firefighters save historic ranch house from wildfire in San Rafael Valley

[Source: JB Miller,] – A wildfire that authorities say was likely started by a lightning strike scorched approximately 189 acres at and around the San Rafael State Natural Area on Friday night, threatening a historic ranch house and burning down an outbuilding. There were no injuries.

Patagonia Volunteer Fire and Rescue, which initially took command of the fire, was dispatched at approximately 8 p.m. along with firefighters from the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District and the Coronado National Forest. By Saturday morning, command of the fire had been turned over to the Arizona State Forestry Division.

Captain Ike Isakson of Patagonia Volunteer Fire and Rescue said the so-called “San Rafael Fire” burned down a pump house, but firefighters were able to protect the main ranch house.

The territorial-style ranch house, which is now managed by Arizona State Parks, was built in 1900 and is more than 9,000 square feet in size. The landscape and house have been featured in many movies, according to the state parks website.

“Arizona residents should be thanking the Patagonia Fire Department for reacting so quickly,” said Ellen Bilbrey, spokesperson for Arizona State Parks. “They actually saved one of the most important buildings in the state.”