When the chips are down, Arizonans truly have grit.
Case in point: The Jerome State Historic Park, with the Douglas Mansion as its crown jewel, will reopen in all its glory on Thursday, thanks to the determination of people who value its significance in Yavapai County’s history.
Two major forces came together to shut the park down in 2009: a crippled state budget that forced the Legislature to cut money for state parks operations and the mansion’s crumbling adobe walls and roof.
But, the “closed” sign that went up on the park’s gates didn’t sit well with the people who treasure the vestiges of Jerome’s colorful past – and for good reason.
Jerome, which rose atop Cleopatra Hill, was once one of Yavapai County’s boomtowns, rich with copper that lured prospectors, investors and promoters who sought wealth from its depths. The little burg quickly grew from a cluster of tents and mining shacks to a flourishing company town, burgeoning with Americans, Croatians, Irish, Spaniards, Italians and Chinese, a cosmopolitan mix, all with hope that Lady Luck would smile on them.
The Douglas Mansion is Jerome’s most prominent landmark. Visible from every direction in the hillside town, the formidable edifice presides over the state park. The luxurious landmark was once the home of mining magnate James Stuart Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy Mine, and featured a wine cellar, a billiard room, marble shower, steam heat and a central vacuum system. The museum resonates with history of life in Jerome during its heyday as a major Arizona mining town.
When Jerome’s mining industry went bust and the town faced certain destiny as a ghost town, folks got together and stood guard over its historic buildings. The mansion became a state park in 1965 and Jerome became a national historic landmark in 1976.
The same strong will for preservation prevailed again when the park closed in 2009. One of the first to step up was Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis who was successful in persuading his board colleagues to appropriate $30,000 of county park money for three years to benefit three state parks in his District 3.
The Douglas family donated $15,000 to help repair the building. The Arizona State Parks board allocated sufficient Heritage Fund grant money to rebuild the roof, fix the adobe walls, reinforce the chimneys and paint the exterior.
Voila. The grand dame shines again, all thanks to the tenacity of people who appreciate the significance and colorful contribution of Jerome and the Douglas Mansion to Yavapai County’s historical tapestry.
[Source: Mary King, Sedona.biz] – Over a hundred people attended the meeting at the Sedona Library on September 30th to learn about the fate of the state parks, which the legislature has voted to close. The attendees were treated to a 13 minute film entitled The Future of Our State Parks. It showcased the beauty of our state and local parks including Red Rock, Dead Horse Ranch, Slide Rock and Jerome (which has been closed) State Parks and Fort Verde Historic Park.
After that, a panel that included Chip Davis, Park Supervisor for Yavapai County; legislator Sandy Bahr; Former State Senator Tom O’Halleran; and Sedona Mayor Rob Adams discussed the many aspects of the issue. Missing was Republican Tobin, who declined the invitation to attend.
Economic Issues Outshone Environmental Concerns:
The park closings have been cast by the legislature as an issue that appeals to only liberal environmentalists. It has been framed as a necessary cost-cutting measure to be attractive to conservatives. However, some say revenues lost to the state and rural communities will be far greater than the dollars saved by the demise of these recreational/historical areas:
8 million dollars would be saved by closing the parks.
260 million in tourist dollars could be lost by closing the parks that includes the money spent by park visitors on hotels, restaurants, gas, gift shops, etc.
3,347 jobs in rural communities would be gone.
Chip Davis summed up the idea of privatization when he said, “In 1957, Arizona was the last state to establish a state park system. Let’s not be the first state to dismantle our state park system.” One speaker stated that he was sure that the closing of the state parks was a calculated move on the Governor’s part towards privatization.
Privatization is a complex issue, which could entail having the Arizona State Park System run by an out-of-state entity. It could mean expanding the use of the park by private vendors that would offer services that the park service would want to contract out like concession stands, thereby using non-state funds to operate the park system.
Initiatives to Save the Parks:
It was clear that the members had given a lot of thought to ways to create a permanent funding source for the future. Mayor Rob Adams stated that Sedona could not afford to fund their parks next year. He had consulted with an event planner to see what type of revenues could be had if an outdoor event like a wedding was held at Red Rock State Park (without infringing on the environment). The event planner estimated that one event could yield a hundred thousand dollars.
Another speaker said, compared to neighboring states like New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, we get very little revenues from our mineral resource-copper. The copper is owned by the citizens of Arizona. Likewise, these neighboring states put much more money into their state park system.
Verde Valley Has the Most State Parks:
This region has the most to lose with the closing of the parks. We have lost Jerome State Park. 80% of Arizonians are urban dwellers, and their cities pay for their local parks. Scottsdale pays over two hundred dollars per person per year to fund their local parks. Our state parks and the tourism it generates is our lifeblood, and as a region we need to let the legislature and the Governor to know our concerns, especially in an election year.
The board will also consider an intergovernmental agreement that could lead to reopening of Jerome State Historic Park this fall. Under the pact, the county would pay $30,000 to the Arizona State Parks Board to run the park, a mining museum in the 100-year-old Douglas Mansion. A separate agreement would allow the Jerome Historical Society operate the gift shop and the visitor contact desk.
Previously, county officials inked agreements to keep Fort Verde State Park and Red Rock State Park open by contributing $30,000 to each and marshaling volunteers. State officials targeted the parks for closure because of state budget cuts. The parks generate $266 million for rural Arizona and attract about 2.3 million visitors annually.
Here is a video (unrelated to the article) on Jerome State Historic Park. It was produced by KAET-TV Eight PBS: