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?”


Agreement to operate the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff is renegotiated

[Source: Riordan Action Network] – For a few months now, Arizona State Parks (ASP) administration and the Arizona Historical Society (AHS) administration have been renegotiating the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) which governs the running of the park to correspond with changes in operations which have occurred since the original IGA was signed in May of 2010.

According to management at the Riordan Mansion, the only major change to the IGA is that “mansion” staff members are now AHS employees rather than ASP employees.  That explains why staff members are now attired in street clothes rather than ranger uniforms.  Their name badges have also changed to reflect the change in their employer.  Volunteers are still ASP volunteers with the same duties, privileges and awards as they have had in the past.  Visitors are not going to see any changes in their experiences at the Riordan Mansion due to the IGA changes.

The signing of the renegotiated IGA on September 23, 2011 does not change the term of the original agreement which was for three years with future terms of three years possible, if agreed to by both ASP and AHS.  Therefore, the IGA is still in effect until May of 2013.   With continued hard work on the part of staff, volunteers and RAN and support and donations from the public, we’re hopeful that the “mansion” will continue to be open to the public far beyond 2013!

How to Save a Park

[Source: Bestsy Bruner,]


Events this year have stood testament to how much our mountain town still loves its history and culture, and the arts that arise from these inspirations.

January began with heartfelt efforts to save Riordan Mansion State Historic Park (RMSHP) from possible closure because of shortfalls in the state budget. Riordan was to be in the first in a phased series of closures mandated Jan. 15 by the Arizona State Parks Board.

The community was united in a desire to save the mansion and park from closure because of its importance as the home of the prominent Riordan family, its unique American Arts and Crafts design, and its place as the only house in the nation where the Gustav Stickley furniture is original to the home.

Above all, the mansion serves as a reminder of Flagstaff’s humble days and future ambition, symbolized by the brothers Tim and Michael Riordan, who arrived here from Chicago in the mid-1800s. They married, and with their wives and children, made their two adjoining homes alive with the spirit and warmth of the arts and culture.

The grassroots Riordan Action network (RAN), began by volunteers at the mansion, stepped in to lead the battle to raise funds and other support to keep the doors open on this special window into history.

It worked.

Today, RAN has collected more than $55,000 in donations and fundraising events to help fund the running of the park, especially in the slower visitation winter months when more money will need to be spent to run the park than is coming in from park fees and gift shop sales.

A March vote by the Arizona State Parks Board delayed the closing of the park and laid the groundwork for an agreement between Arizona State Parks and the Arizona Historical Society to allow AHS to operation the mansion and park for three years, with the ability to continue for two more three-year terms.

In the fall, the Flagstaff Community Foundation awarded a grant to assist with the funding of RMSHP educational programs for local school youth.

With staff reductions and a reduction in hours open, Riordan never really closed and continues to welcome visitors each week Thursday through Monday.

“I would add an observation about the precariousness of local history as we go forward,” commented Leslie Roe, director of Pioneer History Museum, and now, Riordan Mansion. “Both Riordan and Pioneer museum came very close to closing in 2010. It was largely through incredible effort and sacrifice of local volunteers and staff that they both remain open.”


Betsey Bruner can be reached at or 556-2255.

Limiting Park Access Threatens Body and Soul

[Source: Doug Ramsey, Public News Service-AZ]

Arizona Foothills Magazine

State and local parks in Arizona are cutting hours of operation or even closing because of budget shortfalls. In some cases, new parks are being delayed for years.

Carol Stambaugh, Arizona director for the National Association of Social Workers, says in tough economic times, it’s easy to forget the role of parks in meeting the needs of the whole person.

“The whole person includes not just the health and the wellness, but also the spiritual and emotional wellness of a person. And whenever people are unable to have recreation to unwind, it makes the stress in our life that much harder.”

People always need the recreational opportunities provided by parks, says Stambaugh — and in a down economy, they also need an affordable leisure option. This makes parks important to the lives and health of all Arizonans, she says.

“We’re seeing epidemics of childhood obesity as well as an increase in adult obesity. And parks and activities are the type of things that we need to be investing in now, not cutting.”

Most Arizona state parks are either closed or operating on limited days or hours. Some cities are adding park user fees, while others are postponing the establishment of parks in newer neighborhoods. Several state parks slated for closure have been kept open because of private fund-raising efforts and partnerships with local communities. Stambaugh hopes the support continues until the state’s economy recovers.

“The fact that local communities have contributed and partnered to keep these parks open illustrates that everyone recognizes the importance that parks play in our life as a whole human being.”

Such efforts have kept state parks like Tonto Natural Bridge, Riordan Mansion and Yuma Territorial Prison open on a Thursday through Monday schedule.

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