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?”


Arizona parks rescued by communities and non-profits

[Source; Megan Neighbor, The Arizona Republic] –  In the depths of the recession, state budget cuts made it seem almost certain that the gates to manyArizonaparks would remain padlocked. But local communities and non-profit organizations have banded together to keep 14 of the state’s most financially vulnerable parks open by providing more than $820,000 to the cash-strapped Arizona State Parks agency.

For example, the Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and the towns of Payson and StarValleyare helping provide $35,000 in funding to the namesake park inGilaCounty. Through a contract with Santa Cruz County, the Tubac Historical Society is helping keepTubacPresidioStateHistoricPark’s doors open by providing both funding and operational support.RedRockState Parkin Sedona is being aided byYavapai Countyand the Benefactors of Red Rock State Park. All but one of the state’s other 13 parks remain open, albeit seasonally in some cases, because they take in enough revenue to stay in the black and fund their own operations.

Local authorities and non-profits say they decided to cast a financial lifeline to the more vulnerable parks because they recognize their value – their rich history, intense beauty and, perhaps most importantly, their economic impact. Today, less than two years after major closures seemed certain, 26 of Arizona’s 27 parks are open, although many have abbreviated schedules [to read the full article click here].

New Marina Proposed for Lake Havasu State Park

[Source: Nathan Brutell, Today’s News-Herald]

State Parks officials announce Contact Point plan

Plans to build marina, boat launch could cost $20 million

This map shows a new development plan for Contact Point. Submitted Illustration.

It could cost more than $20 million to relieve the congestion at Lake Havasu State Park.

Arizona State Parks officials announced a proposed development plan for Contact Point Thursday evening at the Community Center to build a new marina, two six-lane public launch ramps, storage for more than 200 boats, parking for more than 1,000 vehicles and nearly a dozen other improvements. The park could cost “a minimum of $20 million,” said Renee Bahl, executive director of Arizona State Parks. Bahl added that State Parks officials plan to seek private funding for the park.

“This idea came about a long time ago, but it’s time to get it on the ground and get the discussion going,” Bahl said at the meeting, adding that initial discussions on Contact Point improvements began nearly 15 years ago. “Marina development in the Contact Point area is exactly what the people want and what the city needs for the local economic impact.”

Currently Contact Point, which is located southwest of Lake Havasu City and south of Thompson Bay, features little development, officials said. The Water Safety Center in Contact Point is at 1801 State Route 95, which is situated on the lakeside of the highway south of Body Beach.

Developing the Contact Point area would allow for more recreational opportunities, including proposed campgrounds, multi-use parks and picnic tables, and a riparian area (or refined ecosystem), officials said. But development also would accomplish a growing need to provide relief to Lake Havasu State Park.

“We know there is a great demand for access to the water on the south side of the city,” Bahl said. “You can just tell by the lines at Lake Havasu State Park waiting to get in, so there is obviously a demand for more access to the water.”

Lake Havasu State Park is Arizona’s most visited state park with more than 350,000 visitations in 2010, according to data provided by Arizona State Parks. Charlie Cassens, city manager for Lake Havasu City, agreed that relief is needed.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the city that would object to (the development plans),” Cassens said. “Anyone who’s sat in line for more than an hour waiting to launch their boat knows we do need more access to the Lake.”

Contact Point is located just east of a proposed city plan nicknamed the “Havasu 280” project. The Bureau of Land Management recently completed an environmental assessment on the proposed Recreation and Public Purposes lease of 280 acres of public lands to Lake Havasu City. Development on the proposed Havasu 280 project is waiting for the completion of a national review process.

“(The Contact Point proposal) works in concert with the Havasu 280 project and the plans we have for the 280 with respect to public recreation,” Cassens said.

The two biggest hurdles in the way of the Contact Point plan will come in the form of financing and land acquisition, officials said.

“At the moment, State Parks does not have the financial resources to move forward with this,” said Ray Warriner, State Parks acquisition and planning manager. “We’ll more than likely have to take on a partner.”

Warriner said he’s currently working with state BLM officials on ensuring property and land rights on the project.

“It looks like for this property we may have to change our land rights,” Warriner said. “Right now we have deeded land and an R&PP lease and patented land. … It has to stay in a parks type of use.”

BLM Lake Havasu Field Manager Ramone McCoy said discussions on land rights would occur at the state level but also said BLM is “supportive of state parks.”

“A lot of what they’ve proposed (tonight) was in the original development plan, so we’ve already bought off on the plan,” McCoy said. “In order for them to put in a marina, they’re talking about a commercial lease, which would alter the current R&PP.”

Following the meeting, officials agreed that if the land acquisition and financing hurdles are overcome, development could begin on the project in one to five years.

“Before we can move forward with the plan, we need to make sure everyone is OK with the plan,” Warriner said.

Residents with questions and comments are asked to contact Arizona State Parks at Information from the meeting, as well as maps of the proposed development plan, are set to go online in the next few days, officials said.

You can contact the reporter at

Black Bear spotted at Lake Havasu State Park


Photo submitted to

Authorities said they believe Lake Havasu State Park’s black bear may have moved on in the cover of darkness Sunday night.

“We didn’t trap the bear,” said Dee Pfleger, Arizona Game and Fish wildlife manager. “It could have slipped out under the cover of darkness. We will keep looking for signs of the bear at the park.”

Lake Havasu State Park officials said Monday that fresh tracks and bear droppings were found north of the park and that suggested the bear may have left Havasu. Pfleger confirmed the findings were on the access road heading down to the PWC ramp.

The state park, which was closed to visitors early Monday, has since reopened.

Shane Ray, 43, said he spotted the bear swimming offshore about 500 yards from the north ramp. He switched off his trolling motor and started making phone calls to friends, Arizona State Parks officials, Arizona Game and Fish Department to report the sighting.

“I saw this big black object in the water,” he said. “It was swimming toward the California side. It kept swimming out there for about 20 minutes. It never growled at me or never lunged toward my boat. It seemed scared and it looked tired.

“It was breathing very, very hard and I was afraid he was going to drown, and I didn’t want to see that happen. So I forced him up on the shore,” Ray continued.

Ray said he was within six feet of the swimming black bear.

Ray said officials from the agencies told him the animal was likely a wild pig or badger. Ray insisted it was a black bear, telling them he had photographs. Authorities then asked Ray how much he had had to drink that day, he said.

“I wanted everybody to see it. I couldn’t believe it myself,” Ray said. “It really surprised me. I was astonished.”

Ray, who is on the water fishing four or five days a week, said the bear is an unusual type of wildlife he has scene on the water.

“I really want to see (the bear) captured and relocated,” Ray said. “This is personal to me now.”

Pfleger said while hiking or walking make as much noise as possible to let any wild animals know you are nearby, don’t approach the animal and make yourself as big as possible.

“We are not actively looking for the bear, but are encouraging if someone sees the bear they need to call the Arizona Game and Fish hotline at 800-352-0700 to reach the dispatch center in Phoenix,” Plefer said.

Enhanced by Zemanta