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].

Arizona State senate budget proposal would transfer millions away from state parks

[Source:, Mike Pelton] – State parks across Arizona could face a financial nightmare if a senate budget proposal passes, members of the state parks board said Wednesday. The Arizona Senate passed a budget proposal for next year and, in an attempt to balance the budget, proposed transferring money from state parks to the general fund.

“State parks is not only an enterprise agency but an economic engine,” said Tracey Westerhausen, chairman of the state parks board. Westerhausen said the senate’s budget proposal would transfer more than $3 million that state parks generate from the public, and transfer it to the general fund for other uses. “It’s hard for us to run like a business when the money we generate would be taken away,” she said. Westerhausen cited the importance of state parks for the economy. Parks often draw tourists out to rural areas around the state, bringing money with them.

“The Lost Dutchman state park is very important, not just to this business but the entire community,” said Mark LeReshe, who owns Superstition Harley Davidson in Apache Junction, just miles from the Lost Dutchman park.

ABC15 contacted members of the state senate, who refused to comment on the issue. State parks is only one area the senate budget proposal suggests gathering additional funds from. Other industries would be affected as well, such as the department of health services. Business owners, such as LeReshe, said they will continue to help keep the parks open as best they can. LeReshe has helped raise thousands of dollars for Lost Dutchman. “We’re going to fight,” he said. “We’re going to fight to keep that park open.”

The state parks have faced financial trouble in recent years. Currently, 28 of the state’s 30 state parks are open. The senate’s budget proposal still has to go through the House, where it could face changes, before it heads to Governor Brewer’s desk.

Lost Dutchman State Park fans can adopt a saguaro

[Source: Jim Walsh, The Arizona Republic]

Fans of Lost Dutchman State Park will have an opportunity to hug a saguaro later this year, but only their bank accounts will be stuck.

The Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park organization is launching an “Adopt a Cactus” fundraiser. It has photographed 100 saguaros and tracked their locations with global positioning system coordinates.

“This is way, way cool. People can go to a website and adopt a cactus,” said Mark LeResche, an owner of Superstition Harley-Davidson and president of Friends of Lost Dutchman.

Reinhart, the organization’s vice president, said details are still being worked out and the sponsorships should be available sometime in April. The sponsorships should be available during a March 26 motorcycle ride sponsored to raise money for Lost Dutchman. She said the saguaros are on the Treasure Loop, near the Cholla picnic area.

The sponsorships probably would cost from $75 to $100 per saguaro, with older saguaros costing more because they are more intricate. The project is one of many volunteers are undertaking to support the park, which nearly closed a year ago.

Jay Ream, assistant director for operations of Arizona State Parks, said he probably wouldn’t intervene in the plans. Friends groups are non-profits and not directly under the supervision of the parks system.

“As long as they are not carving their name in the saguaro, there’s no problem,” he said.

For more information as it becomes available:

Rescuing a State Park

[Source: Jana Bommersbach, True West Magazine]

Mitzi Rinehart is just one of many volunteers saving our nation’s parks.

As a volunteer at Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park, Mitzi Rinehart thought the most oft-asked question she’d ever answer was “Where’s the Gold?”

Somewhere amidst the natural desert and the rugged Superstition Mountains, the “Holy Grail” of lost mine legends states an 1860s prospector named Jacob Waltz not only found a fabulous gold mine here but also hid caches of gold. Since he died in 1891, reportedly with 24 pounds of rich ore in a candle box under his bed, people have been searching this area for his mine and his stash.

To those tourists seeking her help on the hiking, horseback riding and nature trails she and her fellow volunteers help maintain at the park, Rinehart often quipped: “Do you want to buy a copy of my map to the gold?”

But in 2010, that query was replaced with a more frequently asked—and not so funny—question: How could the State of Arizona intend to close this 320-acre park that attracts more than 100,000 people a year and means $4.2 million annually to the economy of the Apache Junction area east of Phoenix?

“Closing this park would be like losing a part of me. I know what would happen—it would turn into housing and be destroyed in a short time,” she says:

There’s a big chunk of Arizona history here. It almost makes me cry to even think of it closing.

But instead of crying, Rinehart got active, helping organize the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park and mobilizing community support to raise private money to keep the park open, at least for now.

Rinehart not only is a hero for her state park, but she also represents the hundreds of people throughout the nation who are fighting to save their own endangered parks in these times of economic distress.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which annually lists its “11 most endangered historic sites,” startled the nation in 2010 by leading its list with “America’s State Parks and State-Owned Historic Sites.”

As the Trust notes, the nation’s state parks attract an estimated 725 million visits every year, yet it found almost 30 states had cut as many as 400 state parks to balance state budgets. “While providing some short-term budget relief, this approach will actually cost states far more in the long term,” the Trust warns. “Before they can re-open, state-owned and managed resources will require massive investments to undo the damage suffered from abandonment, neglect and deferred maintenance.”

The Trust’s survey of the situation shows eight states west of the Mississippi planning or implementing “major budget cuts,” with two of them—Arizona and California—among the worst.

California has instituted cutbacks and part-time closures at 150 of its 278 state parks, the Trust reports. In Arizona, 13 of its 31 parks were closed in 2010.

The state park system in Arizona generates $266 million of direct and indirect economic impact, and earns $19 million in revenue and lottery funds. Recognizing the financial impact of the closures, Arizona’s rural communities have been stepping up throughout 2010 to keep most of these parks open. Yet three parks—Homolovi Ruins, Lyman Lake and Oracle—remain closed for budget reasons as of December 2010.

Rinehart is glad to hear that towns in Arizona are finally seeing the value in saving these parks, yet she will never forget those who helped to keep the Lost Dutchman State Park open in those early dismal days of threatened closure. At the first general meeting to fight the park’s closure, 155 people showed up. The Harley-Davidson dealership in the area became the unofficial headquarters for meetings and sponsored a ride to raise money. A retired airline pilot, who is now a winter visitor to Arizona, Taylor Sanford Jr., wrote a check for $8,000 (“I was standing right behind him when he pulled out his checkbook, and I was the first one who got to hug him,” Rinehart remembers). Seventh grader Haley Anderson at Mesa’s Smith Junior High School raised a total of $1,431.63 ($1,000 from the student Builders Club and the rest from individual students’ lunch money). And, in one of the most apropos fundraisers, the Friends of the park raffled off a chunk of gold (no, Rinehart says, it didn’t come from Waltz’s claim).

Rinehart has learned a harsh reality during these hard economic times—not everyone thinks it’s important to even have state parks. She says she’s been dismayed to hear people wonder “why the parks can’t be run totally by volunteers” or suggest “they should only be there if they can pay for themselves.”

Rinehart is just one of hundreds of locals hoping to educate Arizonans, and the public at large, on the value these public spaces hold for both citizens and the tourists who help fuel Arizona’s economy. She and her supporters just can’t imagine anyone being cheated out of standing in the midst of majestic beauty and knowing it belongs to them.