State parks: Arizonans love them, lawmakers don’t

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial Board] – Hollywood made dozens of movies about Tombstone. “None of them are accurate,” says Tombstone City Councilman Don Taylor.

Tombstone’s 1882 courthouse remembers the Wild West reality those movies can’t portray. Sheriff’s office, gallows, creaking wooden floors. But Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park can’t tell the full story, either. Not without all the guns.

When recession-era cuts closed parks statewide, Tombstone and its Chamber of Commerce entered an agreement with the state to keep the courthouse open.

“We had to take some of the artifacts out when they took over,” says Jay Ream, deputy director of Arizona State Parks. Some Wyatt Earp-era guns were put in the vault because of security concerns. Territorial records that had been available to history buffs were also locked away, for security concerns of a different type. “They are doing an outstanding job,” Ream says of the local folks managing the courthouse. “Is it the best it can be? I’d say no. We’re better equipped to manage a museum.”

But the state can’t afford to take back the courthouse. It can’t afford to create modern, interactive exhibits to tell the stories that shaped Arizona. Parks around the state can’t afford to offer ranger-led hikes or interpretive tours much anymore, either.

We may think we know Tombstone. The gunfights. The violence. The dust. But Hollywood doesn’t get everything right. A look at the many facets (some more historically accurate than others) of the Town Too Tough to Die.

People love the parks. Politicians don’t.

The state parks system was stripped of resources during the recession. Efforts to restore or replace funding have been rejected at the Legislature and by Gov. Jan Brewer.

A State Auditor General’s report in 2012 said the parks system faces “risks to its financial sustainability because of a decrease in annual revenues from approximately $54.7 million in fiscal year 2008 to approximately $25.7 million in 2012.”

It’s gotten worse.

In fiscal 2014, the operating budget was $22.5 million. That’s about $20 million less than what Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy said was needed to operate and maintain the system in 2009.

The parks also have $80 million in capital needs, according to Parks Director Bryan Martyn, a Republican whose hiring was approved by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.

That includes more than $15 million in upgrades just to comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Among those needs: a new main waterline to Kartchner Caverns ($3.75 million), a wastewater treatment plant for Boyce Thompson Arboretum ($1.2 million), a potable water line for Homolovi ($5.5 million), as well as assorted septic systems, dump stations and water storage facilities.

These are not frills. They are vital to protecting public health.

Other top priority needs at parks include stabilizing historic and prehistoric structures so they don’t fall down, maintaining trails and roads, fixing leaky roofs and upgrading restrooms, docks and fish cleaning stations. Also needed are basics such as pavement striping, campground electrification, picnic table armadas and dam repairs.

State parks have received no money from the general fund since 2009. During the recession, the Legislature swept away parks’ funding from a variety of sources, including $10 million from the Heritage Fund.

That’s a relatively small amount of money in a $9 billion-plus budget state budget, but it’s nearly half of what the parks are operating on today.

The Heritage Fund was created by voters in a 1990 initiative to support state parks. But legislators are deaf to the people’s voice. An attempt to restore the money was ignored by lawmakers last year, and two Heritage restoration bills this year appear doomed.

Another bill this session would have redirected money the parks get from the State Lake Improvement Fund. Martyn says it would be “very, very challenging” for state parks to operate without the $6.5 million or so the fund provides. Thankfully, that bill also appears dead. But it demonstrates some legislators’ continued bad attitude toward state parks.

Brewer does little better. Her budget acknowledged “a cumulative list of all capital projects requested by State Parks totaling over $200 million.” But she only recommended spending $3 million over two years from an existing fund. She also proposed eliminating $1 million the parks received this year from interest on the rainy day fund.

Arizona’s parks represent irreplaceable natural and historic treasures. They help rural economies by providing world-class tourist attractions. They reflect our heritage and the bigger-than-life landscapes that shaped Arizona’s spirit.

They have huge needs and scarce resources.

Similarly in need and just as scarce are elected leaders with the foresight to make Arizona State Parks a priority and a cause.



Arizona State Parks are a resource for today and a promise for tomorrow. But short-sighted funding decisions imperil their future. You can help change that.

  • VISIT. Arizona’s state parks offer dazzling natural wonders, family recreational activities and authentic windows into Arizona’s history and prehistory.
  • BE A CHAMPION. There’s an election coming up. Ask candidates for state office how they plan to support Arizona’s parks and let them know you want this to be a priority issue.
  • GET INVOLVED. More than a dozen parks have volunteer “friends” groups that provide fund-raising and other services for their chosen park. For information on joining or starting one:

Arizona State Parks Foundation is a non-profit that engages in advocacy, fund-raising and other support:

The Arizona Heritage Alliance is a non-profit that promotes and protects the Heritage Fund and its goals:



Arizona State Parks are a valuable resource in great peril. Stripped of funding during the recession, they struggle without state money and stagger under deferred maintenance. Yet they offer open spaces and outdoor recreation for a growing urban population and an economic engine for rural communities. Popular with the public, but lacking political support, funding solutions can help the parks deliver on their remarkable potential.

Free state parks from Legislature

[Source: Bill Meeks, Arizona State Parks Foundation, Arizona Republic Opinion] – When the Parks Heritage Fund was eliminated, the Legislature didn’t touch the $10 million Game & Fish Heritage Fund. Why? Because the hook and bullet crowd — the state’s 390,000 licensed fishermen and hunters — are a fearsome adversary.

In contrast, parks and open space advocates are almost invisible to lawmakers. More than 2 million people visit state parks every year, but we don’t know who most of them are or how to reach them.

So, how do we solve the disconnect between lawmakers and Arizona’s heritage?

We should eliminate it by vesting responsibility for today’s parks system and future open space needs in a state parks district not subject to legislative largesse. We can’t plan, build and operate a parks system the way we do now, lurching from one financial crisis to another.

Never mind the details now. Today, the Legislature probably would not refer such a measure to the voters. Getting it on the ballot as an initiative is a million-dollar proposition.

In the meantime, parks supporters need to seek out parks-minded legislative candidates by nailing down their views and commitments during the primary elections. The Arizona State Parks Foundation can assist in this process.

For its part, the foundation is working to vastly improve its social media capabilities in order to attract and motivate a larger corps of supporters and donors.

We are also working to establish a strong interface with the statewide business community. State parks are an economic engine contributing more than $260 million to the Arizona economy. They would contribute much more if they could operate on all cylinders.

Bill Meek is president of the non-profit Arizona State Parks Foundation headquartered in Phoenix.

Designer-builder hired to complete Padilla Park in Florence

[Source: Bonnie Bariola, Florence Reminder & Blade Tribune] – The Florence Town Council, at the March 17 meeting, authorized the town manager to negotiate and enter into a contract with Haydon Building Corporation, not to exceed a cumulative total of $500,000, for design-build services to complete the proposed Padilla Park at Silver King Plaza, Main and Ruggles streets.

“Many people worked hard on this project and I am excited that construction on the park will soon begin. I am grateful to be a part of something that will enhance the experience of visiting our historic downtown and the Silver King Marketplace,” Mark Eckhoff, director of the Florence Community Development Department and project manager for the park, said. “Padilla Park at Silver King Plaza will provide a place in our downtown for our residents and visitors to relax and enjoy the park’s amenities, which will include a water feature, courtyard seating and an inviting turf area.”

Plans are to have a multi-functioning park with three main zones:

First will be a passive patio area for dining and socializing. The area would be an extension of an indoor restaurant space. This will prove to be a great advantage for customers of the current Fudge Shop who will be able to utilize this outdoor space. It would also include additional restrooms to benefit the park and any future restaurants. Initial plans were to utilize the existing carriage house for the restrooms but further examination determined this would not be feasible; therefore, a new building will be built for the restrooms.

Secondly, there will be an active component with a splash pad feature and adjacent sloped turf areas. The sloped areas are being created to help assist with drainage issues and for water retention.

Third, there will be a special event and structured activity component with sloped turf field and stage area.

Once construction begins, estimated time for the project to be complete is six months.

Haydon Pre-Construction Director, Fritz Behrhorst, was present at the council meeting and made a short presentation about plans for the project.

Other members of the project team are: Construction Project Manager Cub Carter and Project Superintendent Pat Wauneka with Haydon Building Corp.; Landscape Architects Mike Park and John Griffin with Environmental Planning Group; Civil Engineer Steve Lewis with Ritoch-Powell & Assoc.; Architect Don Ryden with Ryden Architects; Electrical Engineer Scott Wright with Wright Engineering; and Mechanical Engineer Greg Piraino with Applied Engineering, Inc.

Many of the team members have past experience working in Florence and Pinal County. These projects include the Browning-Miller Readiness Center and the Florence Field Maintenance Shop located on the Florence Military Reservation; the Florence Diversion Dam Road and the Hunt Highway Transfer Station; Silver King Hotel and Adobe Carriage House; First Pinal County Courthouse/McFarland State Historic Park; and the 2nd Pinal County Courthouse.

Recent history of site

This new park behind Silver King Marketplace is just the latest effort to improve the property in a process that began more than 20 years ago.

After many years of neglect the historic Florence/Silver King Hotel fell into extreme disrepair. In the early 1990s Bill Coomer and Katie Montano formed the 501(c) 3 Florence Preservation Foundation (FPF) for the purpose of purchasing and rehabilitating the building. Charter board members included John Swearengin, Boyd Johnson and Billy Early with Steve Cooper, and Joe Gervasio becoming members later. In December 1993 the first Heritage Fund Grant for the project became effective with a 2nd follow-up grant approved in January 1995. It should be emphasized that all these grant and award requests were prepared, submitted, and administered by FPF board members at no cost.

Additional monies made available for this project included a $30,000 donation from Ed Bass/Biosphere 2 Foundation and two $500,000 ISTEA awards through the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT).

Other people and organizations who contributed both monetarily and in-kind services were: Pinal County Board of Supervisors, town of Florence, American Express, U. S. West, Gervasio Engineering, Waste Management, BHP Copper, Arizona National Guard, Biosphere 2 and Porter Construction.

The original Heritage Fund grant from Arizona State Parks/SHPO was for Acquisition and Stabilization. Legal assistance for the purchase was provided by the Attorney for Biosphere2. Acquisition was accomplished on July 11, 1995. Through the competitive bid process, an architect, Don Ryden with Ryden Architects, was hired and construction documents were prepared for stabilizing the then existing five buildings that formed the hotel complex.

Unfortunately on January 17, 1996, a fire created the need for an adjustment in the Scope of Work which was prepared and subsequently approved by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). The architect and engineer recommended concentrating efforts on the two buildings which are still standing — the brick building and the adobe carriage house. The remaining buildings had to be destroyed.

FPF board members organized a massive cleanup which was performed by volunteers at the hotel site in March 1996. The donation of labor and equipment for this event saved thousands of dollars in cleanup costs necessitated by the fire.

From 1996 until 2006 the FPF continued working toward the complete rehabilitation of the building with their limited funds. First phase rehabilitation was completed for approximately $750,000. The 2nd ADOT Award of $500,000 with a $32,000 Heritage Fund match was thought to be sufficient funding to complete the project. But when bids were received the funding was $250,000 less than the lowest bid.

Unfortunately Katie Montano, who had spearheaded the rehabilitation, passed away. The remaining members of the FPF Board decided to ask the town if they would assume ownership of the buildings and grounds as well as the remainder of the grant funds (architectural fees had been spent) and take care of the additional $250,000.

The town manager approached the Town Council with this suggestion and they agreed to this proposal. The $32,000 Heritage Fund Grant, which was matching funds for the $500,000, remained in the FPF’s name and was administered by their board members. In addition, the FPF also contributed an additional $25,000 cash to the town toward the rehabilitation.

As a result, ownership of the building and property was transferred to the town of Florence in 2006 with complete rehabilitation completed in 2009. Thanks to the FPF for working toward the rehabilitation of the building for 16 years, it now provides a landmark for Padilla Park.

Ophelia Padilla had always told the FPF Board that she would sell the adjoining lot to whoever developed the Silver King. Thus, with the purchase of her lot by the town and plans for Padilla Park, the people of the Town can now have a beautiful meeting place in Downtown Florence.