Arizona state parks plug away without tax funds

[Source: Mary Jo Pitzel, Arizona Republic] – There’s no money to construct boat ramps at Lake Havasu State Park or fix a leaky roof at Kartchner Caverns’ visitor center.

Nor are all Arizona state parks open year-round, or even all week.

And any thought of expansion is a pipe dream, because the parks have gone five years and counting without any money from the state’s general fund.

But, really, things are OK with state parks. So says the agency director, as well as friends and supporters of the 31-property system, who rallied to help keep parks open in the face of apparently irreversible budget cuts.

Kept afloat by partnerships, fee increases and volunteer labor, state parks are a bit like the tattered flag that flaps over a hard-fought battleground. They’re still there. But questions persist about how long the alliances that sustain them will last.

“The business end of Arizona State Parks is very challenging,” said parks director Bryan Martyn. Without general-fund support, which was cut in 2009, it’s hard to predict how much money the system will have from year to year, he said.

For now, partnerships have worked well, said Bill Meek, president of the Arizona State Parks Foundation. But he wonders how long that will last.

“It’s debatable how long some of these partnerships will go,” he said. “Most are local governments, which have their own (budget) issues.”

Some of these partners question why local government is picking up the tab for a state operation, Meek added.

In Flagstaff, a partnership knitted together under the threat of shuttering a historic Arts and Crafts-era home has kept the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park open. The Arizona Historical Society took over operation of the 13,000-square-foot mansion, with assistance from the Riordan Action Network, a network of community supporters.

“State Parks (crews) were coming up here, and they were measuring all the windows for plywood,” said park manager Joe Meehan, recalling the days when the park teetered on the brink of closure. If the house is closed for a year, it reverts to the Riordan family, according to a stipulation written into the deed when the house was turned over to the state in 1986.

Supporters convened community meetings, and out of that grew the action network and a partnership with the historical society.

Meehan, a curator at the nearby Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff, split his time and moved to the mansion to take over as park manager.

“This park is very special to the community,” he said. “It is a showpiece, and it is a piece of art.”

It also is a big piece of Flagstaff history, built at the turn of the 20th century by the two brothers who ran an area lumber mill. Tim and Michael Riordan, along with their spouses, built two mirror-image houses, connected by a large common area they called “the cabin.” The sprawling mansion was nicknamed the “ultimate duplex,” boasting 40 rooms.

The mansion, one of several historic sites in the state parks’ portfolio, fit well with the historical society’s mission, said Bill Peterson, the historical society’s northern-division director.

The society signed a three-year agreement to run the mansion, saving it from closure at the height of the state’s deep budget cuts. The deal has been renewed for another three years.

Gwen Groth helped found the Riordan Action Network in 2009, propelled by her love of history and the mansion’s role in Flagstaff’s story.

The network counts a few hundred members, some even stretching to the Riordans’ home country of Ireland, but it has fallen to a small corps of locals to raise the money that has helped the mansion keep its doors open.

To date, the network has raised $70,000. In the early days, it paid for roof replacement and other maintenance costs.

But Groth said it’s been nearly a year since the group has had to contribute operating expenses, since the park was doing well on fees, concession proceeds and support from the historical society.

That’s freed up money for special projects, like supplies for the mansion’s many gardens and lighting for the courtyard, the site of weddings and other special events.

Between the network support and the partnership with the historical society, Riordan Mansion is faring well. Admission fees and collections from other events are up. The park got a big boost last fall when the federal government’s budget stalemate closed Grand Canyon National Park. Tourists were looking for alternatives, and Riordan was an easy option, Meehan said.

But is this arrangement strong enough to keep the park running in the long run?

“It’s tough,” Meehan said. “But it’s working right now. It’s worked for three years.”

That sense of uncertainty is common among other parks supporters.

Martyn said the parks have benefited from a $1 million appropriation that lawmakers negotiated in this year’s budget. A bill pushed by Sens. Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, and Steve Farley, D-Tucson, took a portion of the interest earned on the state’s “rainy-day fund” and split it evenly between the parks and the Commission on the Arts.

Martyn said the money allowed the agency to bring electricity to campgrounds at three parks, making them more attractive to visitors with recreational vehicles and campers.

“That $1 million will turn into $5 million over the next five years,” Martyn said, counting on an uptick from visitors with RVs.

However, there are no indications the appropriation will continue next year. And a reliable source of parks funding — money from boat-registration fees — could be redirected to county governments for lake improvements if House Bill 2149 becomes law.

Some of the partnerships are dialing back their financial contributions. For example, the Hopi Tribe used to provide $175,000 a year to Homolovi State Park, which is on the reservation. It’s now $50,000, Martyn said.

For the past three years, Yavapai County contributed $90,000 a year to help support the five state parks within its boundaries. Now, it’s nothing.

“They don’t have the money,” Martyn said.

As the support ebbs, the needs pile up.

The parks have $4 million in capital needs. Projects on the waiting list range from running a water line from Benson to Kartchner Caverns State Park to building gallows for Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park.

At the Parks Foundation, Meek takes some comfort from the business plans that have been developed for each of the parks. They are designed to help the parks maximize their revenue and make them self-sustaining.

He believes parks need to forget help from lawmakers “as long as the Republicans are running the Legislature.”

The parks’ long list of needs makes self-sufficiency a difficult goal.

“They have a whole bunch of capital needs just waiting to pounce on them,” Meek said. “They’re one circumstance from being shut down.

“What happens when the wastewater system at Buckskin (Mountain State Park) breaks and starts spewing into the Colorado River?”


Partnerships sustain Arizona’s state parks

[Source: Ginger Rough,]

For more than a year, Arizona’s parks system has been working to keep the state’s recreational areas operating in the wake of ongoing budget cuts.

Users now pay higher fees to visit many of the spaces. Some parks are open fewer hours, and officials are increasingly relying on partnerships to cover costs.

The latest agreement, forged with the Hopi Tribe, will allow the state to reopen Homolovi Ruins State Park near Winslow on Friday. The park, which encompasses seven ancestral Hopi pueblos that were occupied from roughly 1260 to 1400, has been closed since February 2010.

Officials are cheering the partnership, which will keep Homolovi open for at least one year. But they acknowledge that big challenges still face the parks system.

“We don’t know when or if things are going to turn around,” said Renee Bahl, executive director of Arizona State Parks. “The partnerships are fantastic, but they are not long-term solutions.”

Arizona is not the only state struggling amid budget deficits. Colorado, California, Utah and Idaho are grappling with the same challenges.

“This is the new reality,” said Roy Stearns, director of communications for California’s state parks system. “All of (us) have to look at different ways to fund and sustain parks into the future.”

Shuttering a state park does more than simply close a site of beauty or historical significance to residents or visitors, parks’ officials said. It creates a negative ripple effect on the local economy, such as that of one of the many small or rural towns that rely on the tourist dollars the parks bring into their communities.

Arizona’s system

The Arizona parks system, which is composed of 30 parks, consistently draws more than 2 million visitors a year. Total visitation for 2010 was down slightly because officials reduced hours at some facilities and closed others after the state slashed funding in December 2009.

The parks system now receives no general-fund revenue. It had been receiving up to $9 million a year before the budget cuts, Bahl said.

The cuts had threatened to close more than a dozen parks last year, but officials worked to get financial commitments from counties and community groups to temporarily keep several of them open. For example, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is being operated in conjunction with Santa Cruz County and the Tubac Historical Society. McFarland State Historic Park is being operated by the town of Florence and the Florence Main Street project, a non-profit tasked with improving the local economy.

Under the agreement forged with the Hopi, the state will continue to operate Homolovi, but the tribe will pay $175,000 to help operate the park, a contribution that will help employ parks staff. The deal includes an option to renew the agreement for two additional years.

When Homolovi reopens, only Oracle State Park in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, Lyman Lake State Park in northeastern Arizona, and San Rafael State Natural Area near the Arizona-Mexico border will still be closed. Bahl said she is hopeful that an agreement will be in place to reopen Lyman during the summer.

Arizona’s parks generated between $9 million and $9.5 million in revenue each of the past three years.

A study released earlier this year suggested that the system could operate more efficiently if the private sector took over part of its operations and if a quasi-public agency managed it. But the report recommended against privatizing the entire system, in part because some state parks are operated via leases with the federal government’s Bureau of Land Management.

Similar challenges

Other states also are following Arizona’s lead and cutting visitor hours, reducing services or turning to partnerships to keep their parks systems afloat. Some are considering other ideas for raising money.

California has recently relied on private corporations to cover the costs of capital projects and other upgrades at its recreation areas. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and Stater Bros. supermarkets, for example, helped raise money to replant more than 1 million trees scorched by wildfires in state parks near San Diego and in San Bernardino County.

Utah has increased fees and reduced services, and Washington is trying to consolidate parks management. Colorado, which has raised park fees and reduced operating hours, may close parks and allow oil and gas drilling in certain parks.

“For better or worse, we are at the forefront of this issue,” Bahl said. “We were hit the hardest and quickest in terms of losing resources for state parks. We had to immediately adjust our expenditures. We didn’t have the opportunity or luxury of thinking of a long-term solution.”

Reopening Homolovi

Homolovi, which is on 4,000 acres on a vast floodplain, has cultural and religious significance for the Hopi Tribe.

More than 9,000 Hopis live on a 1.6 million-acre reservation 65 miles north of the park, which was established in 1986. The state and the tribe have worked together for the past month to six weeks to spruce up the park for its grand reopening.

Visitors can learn about the Hopi’s ancient culture, watch demonstrations of their crafts and purchase works made by Hopi artists.

Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa said he hopes those who come will leave with a better understanding of the Hopi people and culture.

“We want people to know that the Hopi people are a real, true culture that is existing in the United States,” Shingoitewa said.

Hopi tribe donation reopens Homolovi ruins for visitors

[Source: Jim Cross,]

Photo from Arizona State Parks.

Another one of Arizona’s state parks that has been closed because of the budget crisis is set for its grand reopening on March 18.

The Hopi tribe paid the state to reopen Arizona’s first archaeological state park, says Arizona State Parks Director Renee Bahl. “We entered into a very special agreement with the Hopi tribe – the first of its kind – where the tribe is paying us to reopen the park. They’re paying our operating costs there to the tune of $175,000 for 12 months.”

The Homolovi ruins, near Winslow, are home to ancestral Hopi villages.

At one point two-thirds of Arizona’s parks were on the chopping block and now only two remain closed – Lyman Lake near St. Johns and Oracle in the Tucson area.

“Lyman Lake is closed but we are working on an agreement with the county to reopen it this summer. For the cities and counties, in particular, it’s really important to have those parks open to the local economy,” says Bahl.

She says the March 18 reopening of Homolovi Park will feature lectures, traditional Hopi dances and you can learn much more about the history of the Hopi tribe.

Help rename Homolovi State Park

[Source: Scott Kilbury, KOLD]

Arizona could soon name a new State park.  It’s land that  already has the state park designation but operating under a different name.

According to the Arizona Parks Board, the state recently entered into a contract agreement with the Hopi Tribe for the operation of Homolovi Ruins State Park.

With the pending State Parks/Hopi Tribe partnership to launch the grand re-opening of this park on March 18, the State Parks Board has directed staff to seek public comment regarding dropping the word “Ruins” from the name of the park as requested by the Hopi Tribe.

The State Parks Board is open to any suggestions the public may have to offer about this name change and will discuss this at the March 17, 2011 public Board meeting in Winslow City Council Chambers.

Public suggestions about changing the name of the State Park may be directed to the Arizona State Parks website “Comments” section at or letters can be mailed to Arizona State Parks Public Information Office, 1300 West Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ  85007.  All comments must be received by March 1.

These Hopi ancestral villages at Homolovi Ruins State Park include four major pueblos, numerous smaller structures and site features ranging in size from one-room pithouses or simple artifact scatters to a 1200-room pueblo, and panels of petroglyphs with numerous depictions of katcina and clan symbols. The sites date from AD 620-850; AD 1050-1225; and AD 1260-1400.

For more information about the Arizona’s State Parks Board Homolovi Grand Re-opening, the State Historic Preservation Office or State Parks recreational grant programs, call toll-free at 800-285-0373 or visit the website.