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’s Parks In Peril: Kartchner Caverns State Park

[Source: Gretchen Mominee,]

Photo credit: Arizona State Parks

The volunteer leading our tour, John, tells us that being dripped on during the tour is good luck, sort of like a blessing from the cave. He says those drips are called “cave kisses.”

Kartchner Caverns is a living cave, which means that it is still in the process of becoming, still growing and changing. It is a work in progress. As you read this sentence, drops of mineral-rich water are slowly dripping from the tip of a stalactite or slipping from the end of a soda straw, a skinny hollow tube growing from the cave’s ceiling.  The stalactites and stalagmites are infinitesimally growing toward one another. The incredibly beautiful and majestic formation, Kubla Khan, continues to form.

This cave was forming long, long before the day in 1974 when two University of Arizona students, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, chiseled an opening wide enough to wriggle through and become the first human beings to ever stand inside it. Imagine the wonder of knowing that you’ve just discovered something miraculously beautiful that no one else has ever seen.

Tenen and Tufts knew they had made an incredible discovery. Because they were avid cavers and had seen the damage done to other caves by carelessness and vandalism, they kept their find a secret for a long time, eventually sharing it with the landowners. Together, they spent years ensuring that the cave would be protected, and that they could be shared with the public in a responsible way that would allow people to experience and learn about the cave without harming the fragile formations inside.

Kartchner Caverns State Park opened in 1999. It was one of the parks that Arizona legislators voted to be closed this year, despite the fact that Arizona State Parks make $260 million for the state annually. To call this decision short-sighted is an understatement.

The cave doesn’t need us. If they close Kartchner Caverns State Park and no human ever sets foot in it again, it won’t matter to the cave. Bats will continue to roost and raise their young in the Big Room. The massive 58 foot column Tenen and Tufts call Kubla Khan will still stand as a testament to what nature can do with water, minerals and tens of thousands of years. Stalactites and stalagmites will continue their inexorable journey toward one another and in time will be joined. Soda straws will grow and fall. The ghosts of the good intentions and efforts of many will linger in the cave, but the cave will be fine.

The cave doesn’t need us. But maybe we need the cave. Maybe we need the opportunity to see geologic time at play. To be able to access the fragile beauty of a place that has been forming for so long it’s almost unfathomable.

Maybe we need to be able to stand inside the cave and hear the story of two college kids who found something magical and wondrous and wanted to share it with the world in such a way that it would be available to all of us and future generations.

Maybe we need the possibility of being baptized by cave kisses, of receiving a blessing from a living cave, to be reminded that we are all, after all, works in progress.

Maybe, as John Muir wrote, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”

Enhanced by Zemanta

Citizens speak out on behalf of Arizona State Parks, Jan. 15, at packed Phoenix Zoo meeting

Clip #1: Ken Travous, former Director, Arizona State Parks; Cindy Sherman, Volunteer at Riordan Mansion State Historic Park; and Susan Culp.

Clip #2: Cristie Statler, Arizona State Parks Foundation Director; Claudine Mahoney, Benefactors of Red Rock State Park; and Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter Executive Director.

Clip #3: Bill Roe, former Arizona State Parks Board Member; Charles Adams, University of Arizona; and Charles Eatherly, former Arizona State Parks Deputy Director.

Clip #4: Joni Bosh, former Arizona State Parks Board Member; Cindy Krupika, Friends of Oracle State Park President; Bob Burnside, Camp Verde Mayor; and Chris Strohm, Volunteer Sonoita Creek State Natural Area.

Board votes to close 21 of 30 Arizona state parks by June

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — The Arizona State Parks Board voted unanimously Friday to begin shuttering state parks, a move that will leave the parks system with fewer than one third of its properties open by June 3.  In an emotional public meeting that lasted nearly six hours, parks-board members heard from dozens of residents from across the state, pleading to keep the parks open despite steep budget cuts.

Local elected officials warned of dire economic consequences to their towns.  Sheriff’s deputies said they will no longer be able to patrol some lakes.  Park volunteers offered to run the parks for free.  But board members said they had no choice but to close 21 of 30 parks and recreation areas following last month’s special session of the Legislature, in which $8.6 million was cut from their budget.  That was on top of $34 million in cuts in the previous year.  “Unfortunately, we don’t have options,” said Walter Armer, a member of the board.

Among the most popular parks slated for closure are Roper Lake, which drew 86,000 visitors in 2008, and Picacho Peak, which drew more than 98,000.  The parks that will remain open generate revenue for the system, such as Slide Rock and Kartchner Caverns.  The parks system records more than 2.2 million total visits a year, according to the Arizona State Parks Department.  Armer added that the board would work to reopen the parks as soon as it had the funds to do so.

Several proposals are making the rounds in the Legislature, including one that would add a roughly $9 fee to the cost of registering a vehicle.  The money would pay for park operations, and Arizonans would then be able to get into any state park without paying an additional fee.  The proposal with the most support at the moment would refer the question of whether to impose that fee to voters, said Jay Ziemann, the department’s legislative liaison.

Wittmann resident Chrissy Kondrat-Smith took her daughter, Sydney, to every state park one recent summer.  The 4,000-mile journey inspired Sydney to become a junior park ranger at Red Rock State Park, which is slated to close.  Sydney, 8, recorded a video letter to Santa Claus over the holidays, asking him to keep the parks open.  Sydney began crying when she learned the parks would close.  She couldn’t understand why the parks can’t stay open with volunteer labor, her mother said.

Others expressed concern about what will happen to the parks once staff members aren’t around to protect them. Although the parks board does intend the closed parks to be patrolled, it remains unclear how many staffers will be available.

Charles Adams, a professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, warned that closed parks would become magnets for vandals and thieves.  Adams expressed particular concern for the Homolovi Ruins, an archaeological treasure that was brought into the parks system in part to protect it from theft.  “There is great concern in the archaeological community as some of these close,” Adams told the board.  “They are extremely vulnerable.”

As the meeting concluded, members of the parks staff received word that Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget proposal released Friday would make further reductions to the parks budget, which could make Arizona the first state in the nation to close its entire parks system.  “We have a huge collective fight on our hands,” said Arlan Colton, a member of the board.  “And that’s our fight for survival.”  [Note: To read the full article, visit Board votes to close 21 of 30 Arizona state parks by June.]