Local Opinion: A sensible way to take are of our Parks

William Thornton Special to the Arizona Daily Star – March 14, 2024

As a resident of Southern Arizona, I am speaking up to emphasize the importance of supporting Senate Concurrent Resolution 1038**, which aims to place an initiative on the November 2024 ballot to restore full funding for the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund. This initiative would allocate $10 million annually from the Arizona Lottery to support our local, regional, and state parks, historic preservation, non-motorized trails and outdoor education.

Our fondest childhood memories often involve neighborhood parks and exploring Arizona’s natural wonders. These outdoor spaces not only offer recreational opportunities but also serve as economic engines for host communities. Park visitors buy gas and groceries, they dine in local restaurants and stay overnight in local motels/hotels.

A study commissioned by the city of Show Low revealed that each camper at nearby Fool Hollow State Park contributed on average $100 per day to the city’s economy.

More than three decades ago, Arizona voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the State Parks Heritage Fund, recognizing the need to safeguard our state’s natural and historic heritage. But in recent years funding has been inconsistent. Due to budget shortfalls, Parks Heritage Funds have been “swept” into the general fund, hindering our ability to adequately maintain and enhance our parks and historic sites.

Past legislative efforts have made strides toward restoring funding to the State Parks Heritage Fund, but it is clear that a sustainable long-term solution is needed. By placing SCR 1038 on the ballot voters will have the opportunity to ensure a dedicated funding source for our parks, trails, historic and cultural sites for years to come.

With the 2024 legislative session underway and the Arizona Lottery encumbrances resolved, it is imperative that we take decisive action to reinstate full funding for our state parks through a ballot initiative. The Arizona Heritage Alliance, along with numerous environmental and conservation-oriented organizations as well as concerned citizens are advocating for this comprehensive approach to ensure the long-term sustainability of our parks and cultural resources.

As we confront challenges such as urban sprawl and wildfires that threaten our open spaces and historic sites, investing in our State Parks Heritage Fund is not just a matter of preserving the past but also safeguarding our future. We urge fellow Arizonans to support SCR 1038 and vote in favor of reinstating funding for the State Parks Heritage Fund in the upcoming November 2024 election. Let us reaffirm our commitment to preserving Arizona’s natural beauty and cultural legacy for generations to come.

Parks Heritage Funds are not an expense; they are an investment that provides affordable outdoor recreational opportunities for Arizonans and visitors to our state.

William Thornton is a second-generation Arizona native, lifelong conservationist and outdoor enthusiast.

**Update on SCR1038 – Unfortunately on 3/7/2024 the Senate failed to pass SCR1038 (15-13-2). The  Arizona Heritage Alliance is regrouping and will continue to work towards restoring the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund back in the Lottery.

Resolution to Boost State Parks Clears Arizona Senate Committee

Missoula current.com – Joe Duhownik  / State Newsroom – Published February 21,2024

PHOENIX (CN) — Arizona is once again a step closer to reinstating consistent state park funding, which has been missing from the annual budget since 2008. On Tuesday, the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee voted 5-4 on a resolution that would annually allocate $10 million of the leftover state lottery fund to the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund.

“As stewards of Arizona’s rich heritage and natural treasures, it is our duty to uphold the will of the people and safeguard our state’s legacy,” Jim McPherson, president of the Arizona Heritage Alliance, told the Senate committee Tuesday. “SCR 1038 presents an opportunity to honor the resounding voice of Arizona voters, who in 1990 overwhelmingly supported the allocation of lottery funds to improve our parks, preserve our cultural heritage, protect wildlife, and promote economic development and tourism across Arizona.”

The annual allocation went into effect in 1991. The next year, the nonprofit Arizona Heritage Alliance was created to help state parks apply the funds. But lawmakers stopped the annual deposit in response to the 2008 global recession. Instead, that money was swept into the general fund. Thirteen state parks were closed in the immediate aftermath.

“We were broke as a state,” said Russ James, vice president of the Arizona Heritage Alliance. “We did it because we felt we had to do it.”Russ was a state representative when the state nixed the annual transfer. “We’re gonna do this, but once the emergency is over, we’re gonna restore this,” he recalled saying at the time. “That was the plan, and it never got restored.”

From 2009 to 2019, the Arizona Heritage Alliance lobbied for bills to replace the funding. It was successful in 2019 when a Senate bill reinstated the State Parks Heritage Fund, but the bill doesn’t allow for annual lottery transfers until 2029.

Since then, the alliance has been unsuccessfully lobbying to return an annual lottery transfer to the state park fund. It got close in 2022 when a bill allotting $3 million annually passed through the Senate, but the bill was never assigned to a House committee.

Jones said upkeep of public parks is critical to the economic development of rural Arizona towns.“These are kind of the cultural centers of all these little communities,” he said outside the committee hearing after the senators voted. “Without these funds, these parks would fall into decay and not be serviceable.”

Republican Senator Sine Kerr of Yuma responded to the alliance’s pleas, sending the decision to voters via a resolution rather than sponsoring a traditional bill. “If it’s their wish that these funds be protected, then they’ll vote aye,” Jones said of the voters. “If not, then I won’t be back here the year after.”

With the Arizona Voter Protection Act now in place, it would be much harder for the state to reverse a voter-supported resolution than in the past. Arizona’s 34 state parks haven’t gone completely without funding. The alliance and other lobbyists successfully garnered some funds for the parks in smaller, one-time payments rather than an annual allocation.

The fund received $5 million in the fiscal year 2022 budget, $2.5 million in the 2023 budget and $6 million in the 2024 budget. Fifty percent of the fund goes to outdoor recreation and open space development, 30% goes to historic preservation projects, 10% goes to maintaining non-motorized trails, and 10% goes to outdoor and environmental education. Since the fund’s inception, investments combined with local matching funds have amounted to $207 million spent on statewide projects, according to the Arizona Heritage Alliance.

Republican senators on the committee were split on the resolution. Sponsor Kerr, as well as Ken Bennett of Phoenix and John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills voted in support. Jake Hoffman of Queen Creek, Anthony Kern of Glendale and Brian Farnsworth of Mesa voted against it. Only one Democrat, Juan Mendez of Tempe, voted against the resolution. Brian Fernandez of Yuma and Lela Alston of Phoenix voted in support. No senators asked questions or explained their votes. The bill will soon be sent to the House floor for a full vote.

Restore Full Funding for the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund in 2023!

Arizona’s local, regional, and state parks and recreation facilities are economic development generators that encourage the spending of tourist dollars, attract businesses whose workforce choose jobs in locations with quality of life benefits, strengthen community cohesion, and increase property values. Historic preservation initiatives in our rural communities and urban areas promote economic development by creating jobs, revitalizing historic areas, increasing property values, and promoting heritage tourism.

The Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund served Arizona well from 1991 to 2008 and again, starting in 2021, with its support for parks, historic preservation, non-motorized trails, and outdoor and environmental education. It is the goal of the Arizona Heritage Alliance to encourage state officials to restore full funding for the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund in 2023. During the fiscal year 2021 and 2022 grant cycles, the demand has exceeded expectations, so full funding is essential.

Help us achieve our goal!

* CHICK HERE  to add your name to the list of Arizonans who care deeply about our state’s natural, cultural, and historic resources and encourage full funding for the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund through its original funding source, the Arizona Lottery.

* CONTACT your newly-elected legislators asking them to support the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund in the next legislative session. Since the election results are still coming in (as of 11-13-22), contact information for new legislators has yet to be finalized. To find your legislator, visit: https://www.azleg.gov/findmylegislator/

* FOLLOW the Alliance’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/azheritage

* INVITE the Alliance to make a presentation at an organization you represent. Drop us a note at mail@azheritage.org 

With graditude, thank you for your continuing support.

Arizona Heritage Alliance Board of Directors

Arizona Preservation Foundation Award

The Arizona Preservation Foundation is honored to receive the 2022 John H. Chafee Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. APF has been a long-standing partner of the Arizona Heritage Alliance and we are mentioned in the following video.  On YouTube, the AZ segment starts at the 7 min. mark: https://buff.ly/3NDOCap