Apache Junction weighs annexation of Lost Dutchman Park

[Source: Arizona Republic, Jim Walsh, 1-27-2010] — Apache Junction officials are so worried about economic fallout from the planned closure of Lost Dutchman State Park that they are considering annexing the iconic landmark.  Apache Junction economic development director Steve Filipowicz said city officials are studying whether annexation would be feasible and whether it would make sense financially.  Annexing the park could keep it open and preserve the estimated $4 million in economic impact the park provides from tourism.

At minimum, annexation would serve as a justification for city police officers to patrol the park to discourage vandalism, Filipowicz said.  The move comes as cities, towns, counties and community groups from Flagstaff to Tubac are contemplating measures that would have been unthinkable only a few short years ago as they struggle to preserve some of Arizona’s natural and historic treasures in the face of deep budget cuts.  Reacting to the Legislature’s decision in December to cut $8.6 million from the state parks budget, the Arizona State Parks Board voted earlier this month to take the unprecedented step of closing 21 of the 30 parks in the state system.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Hohokam ruins restoration in Mesa to begin at last

[Source: Jim Walsh, Mesa Republic, 11-18-2009] — Visitors will get their first opportunity to use a new interpretive trail through the Mesa Grande Ruins in March during the annual open house.  Construction on the trail begins on Dec. 1 and is expected to be completed by Dec. 31, the first stage of development of ruins as a tourist attraction and educational facility since the city bought it in 1987.

The open house is scheduled for March 27.  It includes tours and a free pancake breakfast sponsored by the Mesa Grande Community Alliance, a west Mesa neighborhood organization.  “It’s kind of the grand opening of the trail,” said Tom Wilson, director of the Arizona Museum of Natural History.  “It’s very gratifying to finally get some of the funding together to begin Phase One.”

Bids on the trail project came in so low that the museum may also include a small visitors parking lot for 15 vehicles on 10th Street and a small visitors entry area featuring a ticket booth, restrooms and a display area, said Jerry Howard, the museum’s curator of anthropology.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Budget cuts hurting Arizona’s museums; institutions, parks falling into disrepair, forced to close

[Source: Jim Walsh, Arizona Republic] — Even as Arizona prepares for its centennial in 2012, the state’s history is becoming less and less accessible to the average citizen.  Museums across Arizona are cutting hours, restricting programs, merging or closing altogether in the face of drastic budget problems.  The State Archives, which had been open only two half-days a week, is trying to figure out how to go to a four-day schedule with a diminished staff.

And state parks, many with historical significance, can’t turn enough money at the gate to maintain aging and sometimes-dangerous facilities and stay open.  The impact is significant: In a state where so many people are newcomers, the institutions that can help them connect to their new state’s history are harder to access.  “The more people know about their place, the more likely they are to be good citizens,” said Dan Shilling, an expert in civic tourism and a former executive director of the Arizona Humanities Council.  Museums play an important part in extending that knowledge, Shilling said.  [Note: To read the full article, click here]

Community rallies to keep Oracle State Park open

State Sen. Al Melvin (seated at left) listens as docent Mary Bast gives a tour of Oracle State Park's Kannally Ranch House (Photo: Ty Bowers, The Explorer)

[Source: Ty Bowers, The Explorer] — Given the nearly $22 million in immediate budget cuts the Arizona Legislature has proposed for the state park system, keeping Oracle State Park open could prove difficult, Sen. Al Melvin (R-26) told a handful of park supporters Saturday.  “Time is of the essence here,” Melvin said after a tour of the Kannally Ranch House at the park.  On Friday, Feb. 20, the Arizona State Parks Board will vote on whether to close up to eight state parks, the 4,000-acre park in Oracle among them.

A letter-writing campaign could work, especially one featuring a detailed proposal for how the park’s support group, the Friends of Oracle State Park, could help defray operating costs, Melvin strategized.  He would write the parks board, too, the senator said.  “I promise you I will do everything I can … to keep it up and running,” Melvin told a small cadre of some of the park’s most loyal volunteers, many of whom live near Melvin in SaddleBrooke.

Two days earlier, on Feb. 5, more than 100 people had packed the Oracle Community Center to discuss the park’s potential closure.  At that meeting, the Friends of Oracle State Park proposed spending some of $40,000 they had in the bank to keep the park open for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.  It would cost about $1,500 a month to run the park with a shoestring staff — hardly a long-term solution, many volunteers said.

In fiscal 2008, it cost $278,398 to operate the park in Oracle, according to state officials.  The 9,898 recorded visitors to the park brought in $14,492.  When contemplating which parks it might close, the state looked at how much it cost per visitor to operate each park.  It costs $26/visitor to operate Oracle State Park — second highest only to McFarland State Park in Florence.  Numerous people attending the meeting in Oracle last Thursday questioned using cost per visitor as the only metric for deciding which parks to close. “Is that the best way to value a park?” asked Jim Walsh, the Pinal County attorney.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]