Strong civic spirit saves our state parks

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] –  A cavalry of volunteers, local communities and non-profit groups rode to the rescue when more than half of the state park system was on the verge of shutting down. They’ve done a heroic job of keeping the doors open at historic sites such as FortVerde, scenic wonders such as PicachoPeak and recreational playgrounds such as Sedona’s Red Rocks. The value of volunteer work alone was an amazing $5.5 million last fiscal year, which ended June 30. Some parks run on reduced schedules, and some close seasonally. But only one of 27, Oracle State Park, is closed (and there’s a move to provide limited access).

We applaud not only the civic spirit but the financial good sense of those rallying behind Arizona State Parks. In a state that depends heavily on tourism, these are valuable assets with long-term potential. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, for instance, had a $3.56 million economic impact in fiscal 2007. It’s so important to the region that the communities of Payson and StarValley, plus a “friends of” group, held fundraisers and chipped in cash and labor to keep it running. The rescue efforts are critical stopgaps. But Arizona State Parks must still become financially solid for the long haul. Maintenance and capital projects cannot continue to be neglected.

Step 1 is for legislators to stop emptying the till. They cut off all state support years ago, and now, they’re sweeping up the dollars earned through admissions and concessions. Thanks to all the help, Arizona State Parks ended last fiscal year with a $1.7 million operating profit, but it was siphoned into the state budget, plus an extra $400,000. Besides stopping the revenue raids, Arizonans need to figure out a steady revenue stream for park maintenance and improvements. The cavalry needs permanent reinforcements

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 weighs privatization for state parks

[Source: AP via]

Lyman Lake State Park is closed. (Photo credit: Arizona State Parks)

Arizona officials might turn over management of two small state parks to private operators so they can reopen the sites that were closed because of budget trouble.

The 28-park state system already uses concessionaires to provide some services but now may go further by turning to the private sector for the actual operation.

The parks system has requested proposals due Sept. 23 for operation of Oracle State Park in southeastern Pinal County and is considering whether to issue a request for proposal for Lyman Lake in southern Apache County.

Ultimately that could result in the parks being operated by private companies, parks Executive Director Renee Bahl said Wednesday.

The move is being viewed with some skepticism by at least one potential bidder.

Arizona lawmakers wrestled with parks-related funding issues throughout their 2010 session, ultimately passing legislation specifically authorizing state officials to contract with public, tribal and private entities to operate parks.

Recreation Resource Management, a Phoenix-based company that operates campgrounds and marinas in about a dozen states, in February offered to take over operations of some Arizona state parks for a year so they could remain open.

Parks officials did not reject the request outright but said privatization was not a “silver bullet.” Instead, they have turned to cities, counties and other public entities, reaching agreements that help pay for continued state management of certain parks and management of others by non-state public entities.

Now, nine state parks remain open under state management, while seven others are being operated by state employees through partnership agreements. Five others are being run by other public entities and six are closed.

Partnership agreements haven’t proved to be feasible with all parks, including Oracle and Lyman Lake, said Renee Bahl, the parks system’s executive director.

“We weren’t able to find a solution for the public sector,” Bahl said of Oracle, which is located near a small unincorporated community of the same name and which closed in October. “Everything is on the table right now. We want the parks to be open for the public and the economy too.”

However, a Phoenix-based company that operates parks in about a dozen states and that previously offered to run some Arizona parks to keep them open to help out the state expressed only cautious interest in bidding to operate Oracle.

“The Oracle RFP is pretty thin gruel,” said Warren Meyer, president of Recreation Resource Management.

The park has many restrictions that appear to undercut its value as a “good commercial opportunity,” particularly as a stand-alone project without opportunities to spread overhead costs over several parks, he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

However, Meyer said RMM still might bid to operate Oracle to pre-empt any strategy by parks officials to undercut privatization efforts.

Meanwhile, Cindy Krupicka, president of a booster group for Oracle State Park, said she’d welcome privatization. “I’d just like to see the park open,” she said.

All but one Arizona state park in Pinal County will close

[Source: Florence Reminder, Bonnie Bariola 1-21-2010] — Of the five Arizona State Parks located in Pinal County, only one is slated to remain open.  The reason being that in 1976 the Arizona State Parks Board entered into an agreement with the Boyce Thompson Arboretum Board and the University of Arizona to cooperatively manage the park.  All funding for the Arboretum from the Arizona State Parks Board will stop, leaving the Arboretum to be funded through the University of Arizona and the Boyce Thompson Foundation.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park: Located just west of Superior on US 60, the Arboretum was founded in the 1920s by mining magnate Col. William Boyce Thompson.  In 1917 Col. Thompson served as co-leader of a Red Cross mercy mission to Russia, where he came to understand the importance of plants as the ultimate source of a large portion of mankind’s food, clothing, and shelter.  It was then that he determined to use his great wealth to improve the use of plant resources.  The Arboretum is one of his legacies.

Encompassing 323 acres, the Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden.  It was the first purely botanical institution in the intermountain states.  Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is the place to discover the intricate beauty and many faces of Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden.  Featured are plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]