Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Give control of state parks to counties, cities

If necessity is the mother of invention, then perhaps adversity is the mother of cooperation. When times are hard everyone looks for a little help.

For Arizona’s natural and cultural heritage sites, times are hard. Very hard.

The Arizona Legislature has stripped the state parks department of almost all of its funding. As a result, the parks department has begun shutting down parks.

The first round of closures was March 31 and a second round is coming June 3. The threat of closure has spurred the people and communities who love or need their state parks and want them preserved and open to look for a little help.

And surprisingly, many of them are getting it.

Communities that rely heavily on the tourism that some state parks generate have reached out to local governments and historical societies to help keep the parks open.

The town of Camp Verde and Yavapai County stepped up to keep Fort Verde open. Santa Cruz County will keep Tubac Presido open. The city of Tombstone will keep the historic county courthouse there open. Yuma will keep the Territorial Prison open and Flagstaff will keep open Riordan Mansion.

Other deals are in the works to keep open Picacho Peak, Red Rock, Lost Dutchman and Alamo Lake parks. But some parks have closed. Oracle, Homolovi, Lyman Lake, McFarland and Jerome parks are shuttered.

A few parks will remain open because they collect enough in admission fees to pay for their own operation, including Catalina in Oro Valley, and Kartchner Caverns in Benson.

The deals to keep these parks open are not forever, though. Camp Verde’s and Tubac’s are for one year. Tombstone and Flagstaff’s are for three years.

The hope is that the state will pass through this economic malaise and become flush with sales tax cash again, which should result in restoration of parks funding.

Don’t bet on it. The attitude of our current crop of state leaders toward cultural and natural resource preservation is at best apathetic. At worst, it’s adverse.

This crisis has caused all of those who have vested interests in these state resources to put their money where their mouths are. But it’s disingenuous of them say they want their parks open and will pay for it themselves if they have to, but then try to pass the buck back to the state after a couple of years.

This crisis has created a historic opportunity for preservation in Arizona. While it makes sense to have a state preservation system in which the cost of preservation is spread among millions, that sense only matters if there is the will to preserve at the state level.

That will apparently only exists at the local level. So we should create a system of public and private partnerships in which cities, towns and counties partner with historical societies, environmental groups and chambers of commerce to preserve Arizona’s history, culture and ecosystems.

Crisis has caused them to do it anyway. So if the state can’t be relied upon to do what’s right for Arizona’s heritage, local communities should do it instead.

How to preserve Arizona’s state parks will be a topic of discussion at the Arizona Preservation Foundation’s annual conference May 13-14 in Flagstaff. For information go to www.azpreservation.com.

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