Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Arizona state parks in trouble--and Catch-22

A recent audit has "revealed" what many folks already knew: Arizona State Parks are in deep trouble. Despite being a state with some of the greatest scenic beauty in the county, Arizona's parks rank among the lowest in terms of visitation of all states in the west. If these parks had to depend on park-generated revenue, there'd be real problems.

There are. The state's legislature has chopped state financial support to the parks by half over the last few years. Of the 30 parks the state oversees, over half of them are kept going largely by the efforts of non-profit organizations and partnerships with cities and towns. "Were it not for these partnerships–I kid you not–these parks would be closed," said Cristie Statler, the executive director of the Arizona State Parks Foundation. Statler's comments were printed in a recent story in The Arizona Republic.

Between the efforts of the state legislature and Governor Jan Brewer, Arizona parks have had to try to make the transition from being a publicly funded organization to one that is largely "self supporting." To some, it's a wonder that park rangers aren't out on the street corners selling pencils and bottled water. To the credit of management, the park system has done what it can to increase income. RVers will find more electrical hookups at parks--not a bad idea considering the average daily temperature. A new arrangement in camp fees gives a break to those who'll come during the off-season.

Still, these things aren't enough. The state's own Auditor General says the system needs to do more. It suggests forging more partnerships with the likes of friends groups and local governments. Bring more visitors (and their dollars) with a greater emphasis on a marketing campaign. That puts management in a Catch-22 situation. Money is tight already, and parks are suffering. From what do you take away precious dollars to pump into marketing campaigns?

And then there's the other interesting cloud on the horizon. Proposition 120.

The brain-child of state Representative Chester Crandell (R-Heber), Prop 120 asks voters to approve a mandate that would "force" the US government to turn over nearly 73 million acres of land it controls to the management of the state. Crandell's perception is that the federal government doesn't know how to manage land and that Arizonans are paying the price. For example, Crandell blames federal inaction on tree thinning and harvesting for huge wildfires on federal lands in Arizona in recent years.

As one pundit puts it: Would you trust the Arizona legislature with the Grand Canyon? Regardless of how voters react to Prop 120, it probably won't make much difference. It's quite unlikely that Uncle Sam would agree to turn over the interests of 73 million acres of federal land to a state that can barely manage 62,000 acres of state park lands.

photo: Lost Dutchman State Park, Nick.Allen on flickr.com