State Parks petitions hit the street

[Source: Steve Ayers, Camp Verde Bugle] – The move to put an initiative on the November ballot that supporters hope will stabilize and sustain Arizona’s 27 state parks, is underway. It is known as the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act. With five state parks located in the Verde Valley, along with the Verde River Greenway, the initiative is getting plenty of support locally.

“This has everything to do with the value of state parks to the Verde Valley and to Yavapai County,” says Chip Norton, president of the Friends of the Verde River Greenway. “It means a lot to our communities and the opportunities it provides for school kids as well as the residents. The tourism component is really big. The amount of money it brings into the valley is pretty phenomenal. They have been hanging on the edge for too long, forcing local communities to keep them going.” Norton and the friends group launched the petition drive at a meeting last Thursday, at a meeting in Cottonwood.

If the initiative makes the ballot and it passes, it would fund the operations of Arizona State Parks as well as the Heritage Fund, which was also raided by the Legislature, with a $14 donation attached to annual vehicle registration. The charge would be automatically added to the registration cost, but vehicle owners could opt out. Supporters hope it will raise $30 million a year. The initiative protects all money donated to the fund from legislative sweeps and re-establishes the Arizona State Parks grant program, which pays for municipal and nonprofit recreation projects across the state. It also provides for free admission to state parks for school-age children when on school sanctioned field trips and sets aside at least one day every year in which anyone could come to a state park for free.

The initiative was launched by the Arizona State Parks Foundation after House Bill 2362, which overwhelmingly passed both the house and Senate, was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. “We have been watching for some time and realized there was growing support for long-term support and a long term funding mechanism of some sort. So we began forming a coalition,” says ASPF Director Christy Statler. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was the governor’s veto. And no legislator wanted to stick their neck out for a referral to the voters, so we mobilized and are moving forward with the Arizona Natural Resources Act.”

Volunteers will be circulating petitions around the valley over the next few weeks. To get on the ballot, 175,000 signatures will need to be collected statewide by the July 5 deadline.

Viewpoint: Abuse of public lands forces restrictions

[Source: Steve Ayers, Verde Independent, 3-20-2010] — Once again, vandalism and abuse of public lands is forcing those whose job it is to protect those lands to limit access.  This week, the Arizona Game & Fish Department announced that it would restrict motorized access to its Upper Verde River Wildlife Area beginning April 22.  The agency’s move comes in response to years of vandalism, along with the continued destruction of habitat from illegal use of off-road vehicles.

The 1,089-acre property is prime riparian habitat that includes three miles of the very upper reach of the Verde River along with a mile-long stretch of Granite Creek.  It was purchased by the state using Heritage Fund money from the lottery in 1996.  “The problem has been ongoing for several years now,” said Zen Mocarski, public information office for AZGF.  “There has been a lot of off-road vehicle abuse, a lot of fences have been cut, a lot of habitat destruction.”  Mocarski says the property is managed for its wildlife and riparian area and those management goals take precedent.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Support growing to save Arizona’s state parks

[Source: Verde Independent, Steve Ayers 2-2-2010] — About 40 supporters from the Verde Valley, joined by at least 150 more from around the state, converged on the state capitol Monday urging lawmakers to find a way to keep the Arizona State Park system operating. It was just one of many campaigns organized recently to get the Legislature’s attention and voice opposition to their repeated raids on the agency’s budget.

Not all that long ago the park system had a $30 million budget that funded operations, maintenance and capital improvements to a system of 30 parks and conservation areas.  But after two huge cuts by the Legislature, the budget has been cut to $9 million, forcing the closure of all but nine parks by the end of this fiscal year.  The citizen-initiated campaigns, however, are beginning to have an effect. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Agua Fria National Monument, Ancient battleground? Worth a closer look? Definitely

[Source: Verde, Steve Ayers] – – If you pass through Canyon de Chelly or walk the banks of Beaver Creek beneath Montezuma Castle, you get an immediate and clear picture of why both are national monuments. Like most of the nation’s inventory, their unique natural and/or cultural qualities are on prominent display. But driving south from the Verde Valley on Interstate 17, looking east as you pass between Dugas Road and Sunset Point rest area, the landscape does not immediately lend itself to either of those prerequisites.

Nevertheless, what you would see out the driver’s side is the Agua Fria National Monument — 71,000 acres spread across a high mesa, split down the middle by the upper Agua Fria River canyon. It is a noticeably barren and often windswept tract of low-lying hills and volcanic grasslands that, at first glance, lack any redeeming value. But don’t be fooled by the cover. The Agua Fria National Monument is worth a closer look. [Note: to read the full article, click here.]