Flagstaff-area family relieved as Riordan Mansion park gets reprieve

[Source: Michelle Price, Cronkite News Service] — Rita Gannon, a descendant of a Flagstaff pioneer, can breathe a sigh of relief — for now. The Arizona State Parks Board decided Friday to keep her ancestors’ property, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, operating.  But its fate — along with seven other parks — depends on the Legislature, which is considering a bill that would restore money cut from the Arizona State Parks budget.  The board voted to close Jerome State Historic Park in Jerome, McFarland State Historic Park in Florence and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park near Payson until at least June 30.  Depending on what the Legislature does, more parks could close in early March, members said.

Mike Davis, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park manager, speaks at ASP Board meeting. (CNS/Daniel Newhauser)

If Riordan Mansion were to close, the property would revert to Gannon’s family as part of an agreement that transferred it to the state. Rita Gannon, granddaughter of Timothy Riordan, a logging business owner who played a key role in the early growth of Flagstaff, said her family can’t manage that.  “If they close it and we take it back, we cannot afford it, and it will fall to pieces,” said Gannon, who attended the hearing with her daughter Eileen. “It would be a shame.”  Mike Davis, park manager at Riordan Mansion, which saw 26,209 visitors last year, said repercussions from closing the parks would be felt for years. “To walk away is an egregious example of throwing out the baby with the bath water,” he told the board.

Three other northern Arizona parks were on the list for closure: Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde, Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, and Red Rock State Park in Sedona.  Shifra Leah Boehlje, a volunteer at Fort Verde, told the board that closing the park would jeopardize its preservation of the past.  Fort Verde is considered the best-preserved example of Indian Wars-era military architecture in Arizona.  “I know we are concerned about money, but at what sacrifice to our history, which would be lost forever,” she said.  “The risk of losing our history is just too great.”  Fort Verde drew 15,992 visitors in 2008.

Susan Secakuku spoke of the importance of Homolovi State Park near Winslow to the Hopi culture. (CNS, Daniel Newhauser)

Susan Secakuku, a project manager with the Homolovi Park Project, said the Homolovi ruins, which include four pueblo sites, are an important part of the Hopi Tribe’s heritage.  “Homolovi is a place that the Hopi Tribe considers part of our ancestral homelands,” she said.  “The historic and cultural heritage of the Hopi Tribe is the foundation of our life ways, including our connection with our historic villages.”  The board rejected a motion to add Homolovi to the closures approved Friday because representatives said the Hopi Tribe could help staff the park.  “We feel wonderful that they took a measured decision regarding Homolovi,” Secakuku said later.  Dale Sinquah, a member of the Hopi Tribal Council, urged the board to find other ways to address the budget cuts.  “These are trying times, and during trying times we need to think of innovative ways to keep things going,” he said.  Homolovi had 15,200 visitors last year.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

After emotional hearing, Arizona state parks board puts off decision on closures

[Source: Andrea Wilson, Cronkite News Service] — Eileen Gannon’s ancestors gave Arizona the land and structures that make up Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff.  The agreement has the property reverting to the family if the park closes.  On Tuesday, with Arizona State Parks recommending closing Riordan and seven other parks as it deals with budget cuts, Gannon said her family would wind up having to protect the 13,000-square-foot mansion and its historic artifacts, something that she said it isn’t in a position to do.  “This would be an enormous problem for my family,” Gannon told the Arizona State Parks Board during an emotional public hearing.

Rather than endorsing the plan, the board asked Arizona State Parks to look at options other than closures, such as employee furloughs and cutting back on park hours, before it takes up the issue again at its Feb. 20.  “We need a bigger menu of options,” said State Land Commissioner Mark Winkleman, a member of the board.

Ken Travous, the agency’s executive director, also proposed closing Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde, Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, Lyman Lake State Park in Springerville, McFarland State Historic in Florence, Oracle State Park, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park and Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.  Travous said he selected the parks based on visitor counts and the cost of running them as the agency tries to deal with a deficit projected to reach $647,000 by June.  “We need to make up a lot of money real fast,” he said. “We’re out of time.”

The board’s seven members said they regretted having to address the possibility of closures because they have attachments to the parks.  “It makes me sick to think that we are in this situation, but we are,” said Reese Woodling, the board’s chairman.   [Note: To read the full article, click here.]