[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial Board] – Hollywood made dozens of movies about Tombstone. “None of them are accurate,” says Tombstone City Councilman Don Taylor.
Tombstone’s 1882 courthouse remembers the Wild West reality those movies can’t portray. Sheriff’s office, gallows, creaking wooden floors. But Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park can’t tell the full story, either. Not without all the guns.
When recession-era cuts closed parks statewide, Tombstone and its Chamber of Commerce entered an agreement with the state to keep the courthouse open.
“We had to take some of the artifacts out when they took over,” says Jay Ream, deputy director of Arizona State Parks. Some Wyatt Earp-era guns were put in the vault because of security concerns. Territorial records that had been available to history buffs were also locked away, for security concerns of a different type. “They are doing an outstanding job,” Ream says of the local folks managing the courthouse. “Is it the best it can be? I’d say no. We’re better equipped to manage a museum.”
But the state can’t afford to take back the courthouse. It can’t afford to create modern, interactive exhibits to tell the stories that shaped Arizona. Parks around the state can’t afford to offer ranger-led hikes or interpretive tours much anymore, either.
We may think we know Tombstone. The gunfights. The violence. The dust. But Hollywood doesn’t get everything right. A look at the many facets (some more historically accurate than others) of the Town Too Tough to Die.
People love the parks. Politicians don’t.
The state parks system was stripped of resources during the recession. Efforts to restore or replace funding have been rejected at the Legislature and by Gov. Jan Brewer.
A State Auditor General’s report in 2012 said the parks system faces “risks to its financial sustainability because of a decrease in annual revenues from approximately $54.7 million in fiscal year 2008 to approximately $25.7 million in 2012.”
It’s gotten worse.
In fiscal 2014, the operating budget was $22.5 million. That’s about $20 million less than what Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy said was needed to operate and maintain the system in 2009.
The parks also have $80 million in capital needs, according to Parks Director Bryan Martyn, a Republican whose hiring was approved by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
That includes more than $15 million in upgrades just to comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Among those needs: a new main waterline to Kartchner Caverns ($3.75 million), a wastewater treatment plant for Boyce Thompson Arboretum ($1.2 million), a potable water line for Homolovi ($5.5 million), as well as assorted septic systems, dump stations and water storage facilities.
These are not frills. They are vital to protecting public health.
Other top priority needs at parks include stabilizing historic and prehistoric structures so they don’t fall down, maintaining trails and roads, fixing leaky roofs and upgrading restrooms, docks and fish cleaning stations. Also needed are basics such as pavement striping, campground electrification, picnic table armadas and dam repairs.
State parks have received no money from the general fund since 2009. During the recession, the Legislature swept away parks’ funding from a variety of sources, including $10 million from the Heritage Fund.
That’s a relatively small amount of money in a $9 billion-plus budget state budget, but it’s nearly half of what the parks are operating on today.
The Heritage Fund was created by voters in a 1990 initiative to support state parks. But legislators are deaf to the people’s voice. An attempt to restore the money was ignored by lawmakers last year, and two Heritage restoration bills this year appear doomed.
Another bill this session would have redirected money the parks get from the State Lake Improvement Fund. Martyn says it would be “very, very challenging” for state parks to operate without the $6.5 million or so the fund provides. Thankfully, that bill also appears dead. But it demonstrates some legislators’ continued bad attitude toward state parks.
Brewer does little better. Her budget acknowledged “a cumulative list of all capital projects requested by State Parks totaling over $200 million.” But she only recommended spending $3 million over two years from an existing fund. She also proposed eliminating $1 million the parks received this year from interest on the rainy day fund.
Arizona’s parks represent irreplaceable natural and historic treasures. They help rural economies by providing world-class tourist attractions. They reflect our heritage and the bigger-than-life landscapes that shaped Arizona’s spirit.
They have huge needs and scarce resources.
Similarly in need and just as scarce are elected leaders with the foresight to make Arizona State Parks a priority and a cause.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Arizona State Parks are a resource for today and a promise for tomorrow. But short-sighted funding decisions imperil their future. You can help change that.
- VISIT. Arizona’s state parks offer dazzling natural wonders, family recreational activities and authentic windows into Arizona’s history and prehistory. azstateparks.com
- BE A CHAMPION. There’s an election coming up. Ask candidates for state office how they plan to support Arizona’s parks and let them know you want this to be a priority issue.
- GET INVOLVED. More than a dozen parks have volunteer “friends” groups that provide fund-raising and other services for their chosen park. For information on joining or starting one: azstateparks.com/volunteer/v_foundation.html
Arizona State Parks Foundation is a non-profit that engages in advocacy, fund-raising and other support: arizonastateparksfoundation.org
The Arizona Heritage Alliance is a non-profit that promotes and protects the Heritage Fund and its goals: azheritage.org
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Arizona State Parks are a valuable resource in great peril. Stripped of funding during the recession, they struggle without state money and stagger under deferred maintenance. Yet they offer open spaces and outdoor recreation for a growing urban population and an economic engine for rural communities. Popular with the public, but lacking political support, funding solutions can help the parks deliver on their remarkable potential.
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