When Arizona, faced with a massive budget crisis, announced plans in January to close 13 state parks, Shaw Kinsley learned that the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park was included on the list.
“The park was conceived to boost tourism in our little artist town,” says Kinsley, the president of the Tubac Historical Society. “It would have been devastating” to lose it.
Tubac, located 45 minutes south of Tucson, relies on income from cultural tourism to keep the economy strong, Kinsley says. “We had to come up with a plan.”
Renee Bahl, the executive director of Arizona State Parks, facilitated a solution, organizing an unprecedented public-private partnership between the state, county, and Tubac Historical Society. The agreement gives the society the authority to operate the 11-acre park for one year, with an annual renewal option. The arrangement has a “silver lining,” Bahl says. “Now we have a strong partnership with preservation communities that will never go away.”
Since the agreement, Tubac’s shops and art galleries have donated $15,000 of their profits towards park operations, and an additional $20,000 have come from individuals and other non-profit organizations. Volunteers have worked to keep the site open five days every week. Visitor rates are up slightly, too, Kinsley says. This summer, traditionally the slow season, tourists from 26 different states have come. More volunteers are still needed, however, to create rotating exhibits and lead gallery tours.
“Now that we have the park open, we need to pump up our marketing to get the word out,” Kinsley says. “We need to give people a reason to keep coming back.”
By negotiating such agreements between the state and local governments and communities, Bahl has managed to keep 23 of the 28 parks open.
“You may not see any park ranger,” at sites like Tubac, Bahl says, “but there are others that are ensuring the parks are preserved and protected.”
[Source: Arizona Daily Star, Doug Kreutz, 1-24-2010] — Wildflower lovers might want to plan a farewell visit to Picacho Peak State Park this spring — even if it’s not a banner year for blooms. The park, a mecca for fans of wildflower color, is scheduled to close June 3 — and officials don’t know. “Voting to close these parks was one of the hardest moments of my life,” said Reese Woodling, a Tucson resident and chairman of the Arizona State Parks Board. “I love Arizona and I love our parks. To see this happening just makes me sick to my stomach.” When, or if, it will reopen.
Picacho Peak, about 40 miles northwest of Tucson, is one of 13 state parks slated for closure in a phased sequence from Feb. 22 to June 3. Other Southern Arizona parks closing their gates are Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Roper Lake State Park, and Lost Dutchman State Park. The reason: a budget shortfall of $8.6 million. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star] — The decision by lawmakers last month to take funds from the parks system means some will be closed later this year, the director of the agency said Thursday. The only question that remains, Renee Bahl said, is which ones. Bahl said the system, which already gets no direct taxpayer dollars, is being crippled because of the legislative action to take away a chunk of the funds they get from other sources. That includes not only the fees paid by those who go to the parks but also special funds raised, such as assessments on registration of boats and off-road vehicles. The bottom line, she said, is that her agency will have $7.5 million to spend rather than the $19 million it had planned for the fiscal year that began last July 1.
Bahl said she will make specific recommendations to the board on which parks to close in two weeks. But she outlined the criteria her staff will use — criteria that are likely to be bad news for the smallest and least-used of the parks. One of the most important, she said, is which make money or, at the very least, don’t lose a lot. Bahl said that makes the most sense, as the cash from those parks might eventually be enough to reopen one or more of those shut down.
Topping the list of money producers is Kartchner Caverns, near Benson, followed by Slide Rock and Lake Havasu state parks. Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, brings in about $193,000 more a year than it costs to operate. But the parks system also is populated with sites that bleed red ink. Topping that list is Tonto Natural Bridge near Payson, where costs exceed revenues by $541,000. Red Rock State Park at Sedona operates on a $190,000-a-year loss, with six-digit deficits at Tubac Presidio, Picacho Peak, Homolovi Ruins, and the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff.
Bahl said, though, that the board will have to consider other factors when deciding which parks should be shut down. “There are one-time costs like fencing, or if we needed to add a security system to a building or board something up,” she said. “And we’re still going to need to keep an eye on it after that, checking it both for fire hazards and seeing if there’s any trespassing.”
Several board members, given the news, lashed out at lawmakers for taking the funds, even after being told at hearings last month that it will mean shutting parks. “We have people in the Legislature who don’t believe state parks should exist,” Tracey Westerhausen complained. She said the best thing that those who want the parks system could do is go out this year and elect different people.
Board Chairman Reese Woodling said the parks bring in more in tax dollars from visitors to communities than the cost. He said that message seems lost on lawmakers. But board member Arlan Colton said it’s not that they don’t understand. He said that, facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, “I don’t really think they give a horse’s patootie” about the effect of taking a couple of million dollars from the parks system.
Woodling said he and Bahl spoke with Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this week. He said the governor, who signed the legislation authorizing taking the money, was sympathetic but offered no answers. “I’m just sick to my stomach,” he said. Brewer had no choice but to approve raiding the funds, said her spokesman, Paul Senseman. “The Legislature has been unable to muster enough support for a deficit-reduction plan,” he said.
But Senseman said Brewer is unwilling, at least at this point, to endorse the recommendation of a task force she formed to create a “sustainable” park system: put an optional $15 surcharge on the registration fees for all vehicles in this state. The fees would raise enough to keep the system operating, with motorists who paid the extra cash getting free admission all year to every state park. “The governor believes it ought to be discussed in a very serious fashion,” Senseman said of the recommendation. [Note: To read the full article, visit Which Arizona state parks will close?]
[Source: Tammy Gray-Searles, Navajo County Publishers] — The early shutdown of campgrounds at Arizona State Parks is likely a foreshadowing of things to come for several parks across the state, including Lyman Lake and Homolovi state parks. Regardless of the final outcome of the state budget, which was still not finalized as of press time Wednesday, the Arizona State Parks Board will be forced to make painful budget cuts. Reducing costs by closing at least eight state parks is still at the top of the list, and was scheduled to be the topic of a July 2 work session.
According to state parks spokesman Ellen Bilbrey, board members were not expected to take action at the work session, but instead were to determine exactly how to proceed when they hold their next regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 3.
The July 2 agenda called for the board to meet in executive session “for legal advice regarding strategies necessary to balance the budget including, but not limited to, spending reductions, staff layoffs or reductions in force, transferring expenses to alternative funding sources, suspending grant payments, suspending FY2010 grant cycle, park closures, reduction of hours/days of operations, deferring parks capital projects, furloughs, salary reductions, spending reductions…” Public discussion was scheduled following the executive session.
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