Q&A: Richard Dozer, chairman of the Governor's Sustainable State Parks Task Force
Richard Dozer was the guest on aztalk Live Talk Wednesday, discussing the impact of cuts on Arizona's 31 state parks. Excerpts from his Q&A appeared in The Arizona Republic on Oct. 26, 2009.
Richard Dozer was the guest on aztalk Live Talk Wednesday, discussing the impact of cuts on Arizona's 31 state parks. Dozer is chairman of the Governor's Sustainable State Parks Task Force. He is president of the wealth-management firm GenSpring. He previously served as president of the Arizona Diamondbacks (1995-2006) and vice president and COO of the Phoenix Suns (1987-95).
1. Many Arizonans may not realize what a diverse state park system we have. Would you give us a brief description?
Arizona has 31 state parks on a total of 63,847 acres – and the parks are all different from each other, in size, scope and purpose. They are located in just about every corner and region of the state, except in Maricopa County. There are recreation parks, such as Catalina, Lake Havasu, Picacho Peak, Slide Rock and Tonto Natural Bridge. There also are historic and cultural parks, such as Jerome, the Tombstone Courthouse, Tubac Presidio, Homolovi Ruins, the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff and the Yuma Territorial Prison. There are conservation and environmental educational parks, such as Red Rock, Sonoita Creek and the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. And, of course, there is Kartchner Caverns, Arizona’s crown jewel.
2. Why aren’t there any state parks in Maricopa County?
Most of Arizona’s state parks are in rural areas, taking into account historic and/or natural settings. But Maricopa County has some splendid regional parks – including Estrella Mountain Regional Park in the southwest Valley, which became the county’s first regional park in 1945. I should note that that happened three years before Arizona State Parks came into creation. So there were agencies and individuals in Maricopa County working to preserve and create parks before the state even began its program. In fact, Arizona was the last state in the lower 48 states to create a state park system. Really, it’s been a matter of timing for why there are no state parks in Maricopa County, but also one of resources, with the state assuming responsibility for preserving areas outside of heavily populated centers that would have been lost without state stewardship. I might note, all state parks are within driving distance of Phoenix, including Lost Dutchman State Park, which is just 40 miles east of Phoenix in Pinal County.
3. How big a hit has State Park funding taken in recent years?
Since 2003, in both good and bad times, the state has eroded support for parks through reduction in General Fund appropriations, sweeps of dollars in dedicated funds, and the expectation that parks survive on park produced fees and funding from indirect user levies and federal dollars. We know that park fees now generate only slightly more than $8 million a year while the actual cost of operating our parks is closer to $30 million. And that also does not include the more than $150 million in capital needs for thing like restoration of historic buildings and basic facilities maintenance at many of the parks.
4. What are the consequences of cuts?
Closures, for one. And we’re starting to see it. Jerome, McFarland, Oracle are closed to public. Another 17 have reduced or seasonal hours of operation, including Tonto Natural Bridge outside of Payson. Many rural communities depend on state parks to attract visitors and tourists. Approximately 2.3 million people visit Arizona state parks each year. About half of them are visitors from out of state or out of country, helping to generate more than 3,000 jobs across the state and $22.8 million in state and local tax revenues. Altogether, direct and indirect economic benefit of Arizona state parks is about $223 million. But without a reliable source of revenue, Arizona’s state parks will close and, quite frankly, fall apart. We’re already seen the deterioration of irreplaceable historical sites, especially the adobe ones. We’ve got to maintain our assets. We own these locations, and all the work and money we’ve put into saving them could be lost.
5. What are the most promising ideas for boosting support for state parks?
There are many options listed in the Morrison Institute report, including partnerships with rural communities inherently linked to nearby state parks. We need a dependable flow of revenue. Also, one idea is a parks pass in conjunction with Arizona license plates of less than $15. The idea, which came from Montana, is that in exchange for the slight fee, anyone with an Arizona license plate could get in free to any state park and enjoy. That’s the whole idea: Funding parks, increasing visitation, and serving Arizonans, as well as tourists.
6. How could the state park system better serve a 21st century population?
We need to bring our state parks up to standards and expectations of visitors. We need to preserve and in many instances improve facilities and amenities, including trails, paved pathways, sewer systems, etc. We need to partner with communities and concessionaires so state parks are as accessible and attractive as possible. And we need to promote our state parks, so Arizonans and visitors alike know all what we have to offer – camping, boating, historical and educational activities. We need to work closely with the many other public agencies that manage recreational land and open spaces to make sure we are doing as much together as possible. That will help to stretch resources even further.
7. What can the average person do to help?
First, I would recommend reading the new report by Morrison Institute for Public Policy – “The Price of Stewardship: The Future of Arizona State Parks.” It examines creative and proven ways to provide stable, sustainable funding for Arizona’s state parks. You can go to 2009: “The Price of Stewardship: The Future of Arizona State Parks” for a copy. And then I would recommend Arizonans become involved. Let your legislators and the governor know you value state parks, which we all own, and that they should be a priority. State parks need a reliable, stable, and sufficient revenue sources, and Arizona must commit to finding them. There is too much at stake here for inaction. To ignore Arizona state parks at this crucial moment is not what the stewards who developed Arizona’s first parks had in mind. We are today’s stewards and must make the choices that will serve the state’s parks today and in the future. I think Arizonans want that.