Viewpoint: Closing Riordan Mansion State Historic Park would hurt Flagstaff

[Source: Gwen Groth, Arizona Daily Sun “Letter to the Editor”] — Riordan Mansion State Historic Park remains at risk of closing due to Arizona’s grave budget crisis.  Funds have already been swept from Arizona State Parks and more will be requested.  Shuttering Riordan Mansion State Historic Park goes much further than closing a nice picnic area with a pretty house as a backdrop.  Three part-time employees have already lost their jobs at Riordan Mansion and if the park closes, four full-time employees will lose their jobs as well.  Flagstaff stands to lose nearly 30,000 visitors annually who pause to have lunch, stay in a hotel and visit other attractions.

The “mansion” does not tell the story of a wealthy family.  Instead, the energy-efficient home tells the story of Flagstaff’s beginning and one family who worked hard to build a business and a community.  The Riordans were instrumental in the development of Flagstaff’s infrastructure, education and environmental preservation.  The family donated their home to Arizona so that the legacy of giving could continue through the education of visitors for decades to come.

The state park offers more than a guided tour, museum and beautiful grounds.  Area schools use Riordan Mansion as a hands-on (and affordable) means to teach students about our history.  The park also holds lectures twice monthly that are free, informative and open to the public.  Budget cuts are painful, especially where education is concerned.  Though closing Riordan is not a direct hit to our education system, it is an indirect strike that will hurt Flagstaff in many ways.

Arizona’s budget crisis may cut funding, close several state parks

Riordan Mansion, Flagstaff (Photo: Jen Merrill, NAU Lumberjack)

[Source: Matthew Vinsko, JackCentral] — In response to Arizona’s $1.6 billion deficit, the Arizona State Parks Board (ASPB) decided on Feb. 20 to close two state parks.  Many others will receive a drop in funds, and may be closed in FY 2009, including Flagstaff’s Riordan Mansion.  These parks cost too much to maintain compared to what tourism and other outlets bring in financially.

Bill Meek, the president of the Arizona State Parks Foundation, said with the obvious need for cuts throughout the state, it was a foregone conclusion that parks would be affected.  “It was pretty apparent that (they) could not make it through the year with the money that they have,” Meek said.  “(Because) we face the same problems as the universities, it is just as hard to get away from the legislature.”

Kendra Stoks, a volunteer for more than two years at Riordan Mansion, said this time of uncertainty has been hard on all those involved with Arizona state parks.  “It is a scary time right now,” Stoks said.  “State parks mean a lot to Arizona.  We are all still shocked about (potentially) losing that little piece of history.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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.]

More Arizona state parks eyed for closure

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park added to closure list.

[Source: Associated Press] — Three more state parks are being considered for closure because of state budget cuts, bringing to 11 the number that could be shuttered in coming weeks.  Parks Director Ken Travous told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he is adding the three additional parks to a list of eight others previously identified as being considered for closure.

Travous identified the three as Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Jerome State Historic Park in Jerome, and Tonto National Bridge State Park near Payson.  Jerome State Historic Park centers on the Douglas Mansion, a landmark built in the former mining community that overlooks the Verde Valley.  Red Rock State Park, originally part of a ranch, is a 286-acre nature preserve and environmental education center.  Tonto Bridge is a natural geological feature located in a valley in pine country below the Mogollon Rim.

The state Parks Board will meet Friday in Peoria to consider cost-cutting measures that include park closures, seasonal closures and reduced hours of operations.  Other options include grant cancellations, shifting expenses to other accounts, and layoffs and unpaid time off for employees.  The board on Feb. 3 declined to take immediate action on park closures but voted to have Travous’ department proceed with planning possible economy moves, including alternatives to closures.

Travous said he has already effectively laid off approximately 65 seasonal employees, including some who had been slated to go on the payroll but now will not.  Parks previously identified as being considered for closure were: Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde, Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, Lyman Lake State Park in Springerville, McFarland State Historic Park in Florence, Oracle State Park in Oracle, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park in Tubac, and Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.  Travous said those were chosen for possible closure because of low visitation rates.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]