Don’t let Legislature rob our parks

[Source: Ken Travous, Arizona Republic My Turn] – You have to hand it to a guy like Bryan Martyn, executive director of Arizona State Parks. He has a smile of confidence and a can-do attitude that you would expect of a former soldier. I would rather not be there, however, on the day he discovers that neither of those attributes will fix a collapsed sewer pipe. It won’t be long before one of his hikes finds him stepping in the goo of neglect.

It wasn’t always this way. In the mid-1980s, Gov. Bruce Babbitt found a way to partner with the Legislature to begin the process of identifying and conserving key areas with the purpose of securing them for future generations. Red Rock State Park, Slide Rock State Park, Homolovi State Historic Park and Verde River Greenway became part of the State Parks system. Soon thereafter, Babbitt and Sen. Barry Goldwater met in Barry’s backyard to announce their support for the creation of a Heritage Fund that would provide predictable funding for State Parks by tapping lottery-ticket revenue.

At about the same time, State Parks approached the Legislature with a proposal to purchase and develop what is now Kartchner Caverns State Park. The intriguing part of the story revolves around the way this development would be pursued. The Legislature in essence said, “We don’t have any money for this, but if you think it’s that important, why don’t you start acting like a business? We’ll let you keep the money you make at the gate, and you can apply it toward this new park.”

The transformation was remarkable. Parks staff began looking at ways to increase revenue to develop and operate the system. It started to talk about cost centers, revenue opportunities and return on investment.

In 1988, total revenue for the park system was about $800,000. Ten years later, it was almost $10 million. Kartchner Caverns was developed at a cost of $36 million with only a $3 million loan from the general fund needed to open the park in 1999.

Things were looking pretty good, and I guess that’s the problem. In some odd kind of way, employing some type of sideways logic, the Legislature deemed that if State Parks is getting along well, it must be out of our control. So, after 15 years of parks acting like a business, the Legislature decided to act like a government and take their money. A little bit here and there in the beginning, to test the public reaction, and then in breathtaking swaths.

Heritage Fund … gone. Enhancement fund … swiped. General fund? No way. A $250,000 bequest? Oops, they caught us; better put it back.

State Parks now has a mountainous backlog of maintenance projects all because the Legislature would rather wholly own a failure than share a success. We need to put people in the halls that care about those things that we want our children to enjoy, and a governor who will stand in the breach when the next onslaught appears.

Until then, we’ll all be stepping in the goo.

Kenneth Travous was executive director of Arizona State Parks for 23 years.

Arizona’s McFarland State Historic Park closes

McFarland State Historic Park, Florence

[Source: Arizona State Parks] — Pinal County’s first courthouse, built in 1878, has been slowly deteriorating since 2001 while Arizona State Parks has saved Heritage Fund monies to get the building repaired.  Today all the buildings at the park closed in anticipation of the re-opening to the public. Structural stabilization of the historic adobe foundation had been slated for completion in 2009.  “Unfortunately in recent years, the structural damage from rain has been so bad that we had to close the historic courthouse last October and staff started dismantling the exhibits in preparation of the renovations,” explained Chief of Operations, Janet Hawks.  “We have been saving funds in the account so that we could finally repair the rock foundation, wide cracks in the adobe walls, crumbling wood porch, add support beams, and grade the site to prevent further destruction.  The deterioration of the foundation poses a threat to the building.  We sent bids for construction out last fall, but now everything is on hold until after our February 20th Board meeting,” she said.

Governor Ernest McFarland bought the Courthouse in 1974 and donated it to the State Parks department.  Another facility behind the Courthouse was built later as a repository for his personal papers.  In 1976 the state legislature did not allocate operating funds so the new Park’s opening date was pushed back.  It wasn’t until March of 1977, during Arizona’s 20th anniversary, that McFarland State Park was opened to the public and later dedicated by Governor Bruce Babbitt.

For 32 years tourists and busloads of children have toured this State Park to experience Arizona’s history and learn how territorial justice was served.  They also were taught about Florence’s World War II POW camps and about one of Arizona’s visionary’s, Governor McFarland, who created the State Parks system 52 years ago.  Interpretive tours of the park feature the courtroom and judge’s chambers, the sheriff’s office, and the jail.  The second story was used as a jury room and quarters for visiting lawmen.  Most of the courthouses’ artifacts were moved out just recently, including McFarland’s personal papers.  The papers will be transferred to the Arizona Library and Archives’ new state-of-the-art building in Phoenix where researchers will be able to more readily access them.  The park staff, who have been preparing for the renovation, will be reassigned to other parks.

A new interpretive plan will be introduced once the stabilization is completed.  The focus for the new exhibits in the Courthouse will feature Arizona’s Territorial history and law and order.  The 1882 jail will be reproduced within the courthouse building.  New updated exhibits about Governor “Mac” McFarland and the World War II Florence POW camp will be displayed in the renovated museum and archives buildings.