Love Arizona parks? Then get out there and use them

635528131686761919-VerdeKayak-CVR[Arizona Republic Editorial board, December 8, 2014] – There’s a big difference between idealizing a faraway river and feeling the current beneath your boat. That distinction matters to Arizona’s state parks, and the Arizona State Parks Foundation understands why.

When city folks express support for the state parks, it represents a casual friendship. When people get out there and experience the real thing, it leads to a committed, long-term relationship — a relationship worth working to preserve and enrich.

“The more people we get into the parks, the more people will be actively interested in the parks,” says Bill Meek, president of the parks foundation board. “We need to get people out there experiencing what we’ve got.”

An engaged constituency is essential because politicians have not been good to the parks. Funding was stripped during the recession, and the current budget deficit may lead to more pain.

Lack of funding translates into at least $80 million in capital needs at the 31 natural, historic and archaeological sites that make up the state parks system. In addition to funding to keep the sites safe and well maintained, more than $200 million in capital projects have been requested to provide better experiences for visitors.

The problem is not a lack of public support. Over the years, Arizonans have shown continued support for parks in polls, through surveys and at the ballot box. In 1990, they approved the Heritage Fund, which targeted $10 million annually to the parks from Lottery revenues.

The problem is lack of public engagement. Consider this: Lawmakers stripped Heritage funding from the parks during the Great Recession while letting it continue to flow to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Hunters and anglers form a strong and active constituency. Lawmakers didn’t ignore them.

The constituency for state parks is much broader and less actively engaged politically.

Enter an idea that could help raise money and public consciousness on behalf of these state treasures.

Verde River kayak tours run by the Verde River Institute and the parks foundation include a guide to interpret the flora and fauna, as well as stops at local communities and a tasting session at a winery cooperative.

The $200 fee includes a $115 donation to the parks foundation. Tours this fall brought in about $5,000, which will become seed money to develop a business plan to expand the tours, parks foundation Executive Director Cristie Statler told The Arizona Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl.

Meek says if the tours are expanded, they could develop a funding stream that lawmakers could not sweep. He says parks systems around the country are using “social enterprise,” an idea that uses commercial strategies to benefit human or environmental needs. That’s the kind of creative thinking our parks need in these tough budget times.

But that’s not all.

Giving people a hands-on experience with resources they had not previously touched deepens their understanding and appreciation. It builds deep commitment. That makes them more likely to “take action and talk to their legislators,” says Doug Von Gausig, director of the Verde River Institute. He leads the river tours.

The more opportunities people have to experience the state parks, the more committed Arizonans will be to speak up for these amazing places.


Goals of the Arizona Heritage Alliance


1) Increase public awareness of the purpose, benefits, and opportunities of the Arizona Heritage Fund:

  • Compile and disseminate e-newsletter to all internal and external key publics, including members, state legislators and staff, city officials, county officials, affiliate organizations, and interested citizens
  • Maintain and update database of internal and external key decision makers
  • Communicate updates in e-newsletter
  • Participate in key statewide conferences
  • Hold public education workshops
  • Organize speakers bureau of volunteer board members, communicate availability, and schedule speaking engagements
  • Produce and secure placement of positive public service announcement.


2) Protect the integrity and existing funding levels of the Arizona Heritage Fund

  • Develop informational packet
  • Meet with targeted legislators and executive branch representatives to establish rapport and support; distribute informational packet
  • Keep current on proposed legislation; analyze and respond to proposed legislation
  • Broadcast “Action Alerts”


3) Update the Arizona Heritage Fund to reflect anticipated future funding needs and programs

  • Develop and implement comprehensive communications, marketing, and coalition-building plan
  • Meet with representatives of the Arizona Heritage Fund Coalition to discuss existing and anticipated funding strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and recommendations; and to gain support for any fund-raising campaign
  • Update statewide poll to determine baseline support for future Arizona Heritage Fund needs and programs
  • Secure representation on any organization, coalition, or effort that may impact future Arizona Heritage Fund needs and programs

Folks want to save historic mine

[Source: Griselda Nevarez, Cronkite News Service, Arizona Daily Star]

Photo by Griselda Nevarez

Dave Rodgers often journeys from his home in Surprise to explore remnants of the Vulture Mine: a tree where those who stole gold were hanged, machinery that crushed ore to remove gold, and even clothes and shoes that miners wore.

Taking self-guided tours, he and others can examine stone walls of what was the home of Henry Wickenburg, who discovered gold here in 1863; towering wood rigging used to lift ore from the shaft; and other relics from an operation that yielded $200 million worth of gold before closing in 1942.

“Everything is just there like it was the day they shut down the mine,” Rodgers said. “They just left their stuff and walked off.”

Up to 5,000 people once lived in Vulture City, the community that sprang up around the mine. Stories of spirits roaming the ghost town continue to draw visitors.

But years of weathering and neglect have taken a toll. The 11 buildings that still stand, including two schoolhouses and the assay office, have crumbling walls of stone and adobe. Wood roofs and walls are in even worse shape, and nails and pieces of metal pose hazards for visitors.

Marty Hagan, a Wickenburg resident volunteering on a recent weekday, said preserving this site would not only safeguard an irreplaceable piece of Arizona’s gold-mining past, but also benefit the community.

“We have a legacy in our own backyard, and they don’t realize that,” he said.

The nonprofit Vulture Mine Preservation and Restoration Association, of which Hagan is vice president, launched in 2009 to protect the history that survives here. The group would like to restore the buildings, offer guided tours, showcase artifacts and add shops and restaurants.

But it may not get the chance.

The owners of the 274 acres that include the mine and its surroundings want to sell, but the association can’t afford the $3.5 million asking price, which has dropped from more than $6 million over the past few years.

Members of the group have tried unsuccessfully to assemble enough in donations and grants to purchase the property. Now they’re hoping that a buyer steps forward to help them. “We want someone that’s willing to work with us to save it so that we don’t lose its history,” he said.

The mine could have qualified for money from the Heritage Fund, which draws on lottery proceeds to fund grants administered by Arizona State Parks. But the $10 million grant money was swept up by the Legislature to help balance the state budget.

James Garrison, state historic-preservation officer for Arizona State Parks, said the Vulture Mine is worth preserving. “The mine itself has simply played an important part in the development of Arizona,” he said.

In the late 1800s, the mine was one of the biggest attractions for pioneers who came to Arizona. The U.S. government used its gold to help finance the Civil War and later used it to help finance the Salt River Project.

Garrison is working with the Wickenburg Historical Preservation Society to add the mine to the National Register of Historic Places. That would make possible U.S. preservation grants, though the current federal budget has frozen those funds. Adding the Vulture Mine to the register also would make it eligible for grants from the Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America, two national groups that work to uphold properties of national significance.

Cindy Thrasher, president of the Wickenburg Historical Preservation Society, said the remaining artifacts reveal history that can’t be found anywhere else in Arizona.


Wickenburg is about 170 miles northwest of Tucson. The Vulture Mine site is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Fight to Keep State Parks Open

[Source: Shain Bergan, Tucson Weekly]

The slashing of Arizona State Parks’ state-allocated funds means parks officials have started facing a harsh reality: They may be forced to close several parks, in addition to the three that are currently closed to the public because of lack of funding.Their general funding was cut from $20 million to zero, so the parks will now be working on a budget largely consisting of self-generated funds made up of mostly gate fees, says Jay Ziemann, assistant director of Arizona State Parks. 

These self-generated funds equal about $10 million, falling well short of the $18.4 million needed to operate the parks currently open to the public.

Bellota Trail at Oracle State Park

Things looked grim about a year ago, as well, for Arizona State Parks. After a $10 million Legislative sweep of the parks’ Heritage Fund, parks officials faced the probability that they would have to look at closing more than half of Arizona’s 28 state parks.Communities, towns and counties, though, stepped forward, footing at least part of the bill to keep 16 of those parks open through temporary 1 to 3-year lease agreements.

For nine of those parks, third parties contributed enough to keep state park staff employed at the locations. For the others, the government staff has been replaced by employees and volunteers of the contributing parties, Ziemann says.
Now, only three state parks—-Lyman Lake State Park, Oracle State Park and San Rafael State Natural Area—-are currently closed to the public without lease agreements in the works. Despite the difficulties raised by the governor’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, parks officials are still trying to figure out ways to keep those parks open, Ziemann says.

Those efforts include talking to contacts at the State Capitol and trying to attract local communities to the table to negotiate temporary leases, Ziemann says.

Although Ziemann remains optimistic that agreements can be made to keep all the parks open, he concedes that temporary leases do not solve the larger issue of lacking revenue in the Arizona State Parks system.

“Right now, the goal is to get all these parks open to the public,” he says. “But this is not a long-term solution.”

So what is a long-term solution?

“We’re still trying to figure that out.”