Arizona State Parks: What’s open and what’s closing

The Arizona State Parks Board, responding to a budget raid by the Arizona Legislature, voted on Friday to begin the closure of most state parks. It’s a sad and ultimately short-sighted development. There aren’t any easy answers to our budget woes, but this clearly does not sit well for our future.

The Arizona Heritage Alliance, which works diligently to protect the Heritage Fund, posted this excellent summary of what’s still open and what’s closing.

The Arizona State Parks Board voted to keep nine parks open and close the remaining thirteen State Parks in a phased series of closures starting February 22, 2010 due to six different State Parks funds being swept of $8.6 million. In addition, four parks remain closed due to previous budget reductions.

The nine parks that will remain open are ones that generate the most revenue back into the parks operating revolving funds. The parks that will remain open include Buckskin Mountain State Park in Parker, Catalina State Park near Tucson, Cattail Cove State Park in Lake Havasu City, Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area in Show Low, Kartchner Caverns State Park in Benson, Lake Havasu State Park, Patagonia Lake State Park and Slide Rock State Park in Sedona.

The remaining parks will be closed in a phased sequence starting on February 22, 2010 and include Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, Lyman Lake State Park in St. Johns, and Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff.

The next park closings will occur on March 29, 2010 and will include Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde, Roper Lake State Park in Safford, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, and Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.

The final phased closings will occur on June 3, 2010 and will include Tonto Natural Bridge State Park near Payson, Alamo Lake State Park in Wenden, Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, Picacho Peak State Park, and Red Rock State Park in Sedona.

The remaining parks will continue their agreements with other entities or will be passively managed by an adjacent park. These include Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park in Superior, Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, Verde River Greenway State Natural Area, and Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.

Four parks would remain closed. These include Jerome State Historic Park, McFarland State Historic Park in Florence, Oracle State Park, and San Rafael State Natural Area.

If you haven’t been to any of these parks, note the day and make the effort to get there before they close.

A successful birthday for Agua Fria National Monument

Cutting the Agua Fria National Monument’s 10th birthday cake

I’ve previously mentioned last week’s 10-year anniversary celebration of Agua Fria National Monument (and the National Landscape Conservation System), so I thought I should post an update on how it went.

I spoke with the BLM yesterday and the event wildly surpassed our estimates. We had projected about 500 attendees, but were surprised when more than 2,200 showed up.


There was a steady stream all day and the giveaways went quickly. Hell, the event programs were gone well before things really got rolling. BLM stopped counting after 800 vehicles. The Friends of the Agua Fria National Monument and the Friends of Sonoran Desert National Monument were both there, along with many other great organizations.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the planning (especially the Friends!), volunteered and performed at the event, and of course, all of you who came out to commemorate the Monument’s birthday. I hope everyone had a blast celebrating one of the state’s coolest places.

Now, check out some of the other celebrations.

We need an America the Beautiful pass for kids

Some of our previous National Park and America the Beautiful passes
Some of our previous National Park and America the Beautiful passes

For the ninth or tenth straight year, Kim and I bought an America the Beautiful Pass (or its predecessors, the National Parks Passport and Golden Eagle Passport). For $80 a year, it’ll get you and your family into every National Park unit and the other federal land management agency lands for free. Given the fabulous list of places that includes, it’s an incredible steal.

Most years, it pays for itself early in a roadtrip. This winter, it only saved us $8. Vicksburg National Military Park, of the 11 total national parks we visited, was the only one1 that charged an entrance fee. Unlike the majority of sites in the West, we’ve noticed that Southern units rarely charge an entrance fee. Even so, we’ll probably break even later this year.

In addition to the regular America the Beautiful pass, there’s also an America the Beautiful Senior Pass, an America the Beautiful Access Pass, and an America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass.

The Senior pass, formerly called the Golden Age Passport, is a one-time $10 (now) $803 fee and covers US citizens ages 62 and up. That’s quite a deal. The Access pass, formerly called the Golden Access Passport, is an even better deal – it’s free for anyone with a permanent disability. Mind you, these passes cover the entrance fee for you (and your family) into any national park for rest of your life. The Volunteer Pass, however, is awarded only after 500 2502 cumulative hours of volunteer work and is good for a single year from that date.

Now, I realize that many seniors and people with disabilities may have limited and/or fixed incomes which make it difficult to enjoy our national treasures. But at the same time, we’re not asking for income tax returns at the entrance station—if your drivers license says you’re 62, you get a lifetime pass…even if you’re Warren Buffett. I understand that getting seniors to the parks is a laudable goal—and that as a voting block, they could be particularly helpful in ensuring adequate park funding.

But I think we’re missing the real opportunity here: getting young kids to the parks. Instead (or rather, in addition to) the existing passes, there should be a youth pass. It should be valid until the age of eighteen and function similarly to the senior pass.

We should call it the Golden Eaglet Pass.

Yes, kids under the age of 16 are already admitted for free. But that’s misleading. If you’re driving to a place like, say, Grand Canyon National Park, you’re going to pay $25 $30 a carload whether or not it contains a 12-year old. But if grandpa was asleep in the back seat, you’d get the entire car in for free.

There are already very compelling reasons for why we need to get kids outside more often – whether it’s combating obesity, connecting them with the wonder of the natural world, or giving them a chance to learn first-hand about our natural and cultural heritage. We all know and agree that it’s important.

We also need them to become lifelong advocates for public lands, helping to ensure that the special places they visited remain for their own children to experience. Providing an incentive for families to make sure that happens is a good idea.

As a final comment, I’d also love to see the volunteer pass dramatically lower its service hours requirement. 500 250 volunteer hours is roughly an entire quarter of full-time work and would be valued at more than $10,000 $5,000. That’s a ridiculously high amount of volunteer time for an $80 pass and essentially ensures that only retirees will meet the requirement in a single year (and hell, they can already get a lifetime pass for $80). That total should be dropped to 50 hours or less. After all we should be doing a better job of rewarding those who donate their time, energy and skill to protecting and interpreting our special places that help make this country great.

Note: You can buy any of these passes (well, except for the youth pass I’ve proposed) at virtually any National Park Service unit that charges a fee, or basically any federal fee area that’s staffed. By the way, the unit at which you buy it receives an additional cut of the fee, so keep that in mind. In the past, we’ve also seen them for sale at REI.

Also, most federal sites have “fee-free days” several weekends a year.


[back to post] Poverty Point National Monument, while technically a unit of the National Park System, is owned and run by the State of Louisiana and charged its own $2/person entrance fee that’s not covered by the pass.

[back to post] The Volunteer Pass requirements have been dropped to 250 hours, which is still far too high.

[back to post] The National Parks Centennial Act passed in early 2017 is raising the price for the Senior Pass from $10 to $80 for the lifetime pass. Still an amazing deal.

Gathering of the Greens 2009

On Wednesday night, I attended the annual Gathering of the Greens down at the Historic Y building in Tucson. I happened to have several meetings scheduled down there for earlier in the day, and after the prodding of several colleagues, I decided to stick around for at least a bit of the celebration.

I’m glad I did.

The party had lots of good food, drinks, and even branded cups. Best of all, it was great to see so many conservation advocates in one place. I’ve been longing for a stronger conservation community in Phoenix and this event reminded me that I’ve considered organizing a regular (or at least occasional) social event for Valley conservation staff. We need some better opportunities to develop stronger relationships across the conservation community in Phoenix, and the first step in my mind is to get us all sitting down at a table after work. Maybe it’ll be the beginning of something special.

Celebrate the Conservation System in Arizona

It’s been nearly 10 years since the creation of the National Landscape Conservation System – America’s newest system of protected lands managed by the US Bureau of Land Management. That’s all a mouthful to say that it’s been a decade (and sometimes two) since some of the most interesting, most wild, and mostly-unknown special places in Arizona were set aside to protect our rich natural and cultural heritage.

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument

I have the pleasure of working daily with many local partners, including the Friends of the Agua Fria National Monument, Friends of Ironwood Forest, Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, Friends of the San Pedro River, Cienega Watershed Partnership, and others, in helping to make sure these treasured places can be enjoyed by future generations.

These are places worth celebrating, and this milestone marks a great opportunity to do much more to ensure the vision of Conservation System is realized. Please join me in celebrating how far we’ve come and in helping us get to where we need to be.

Here’s the listing of activities from the BLM:

The BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) contains some of the West’s most spectacular landscapes. Arizona manages 5 national monuments, 3 national conservation areas, 2 national historic trails, a portion of 1 national scenic trail, 47 wilderness areas and 2 wilderness study areas. These national treasures were designated by Congress or Presidential Proclamation.
We are excited to be hosting a series of events throughout the year and across the state of Arizona to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the National Landscape Conservation System. Arizona is rich in areas designated as NLCS units; National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas; National Historic and National Scenic Trails. So take a look, choose one, or more, and celebrate with BLM these treasured landscapes. Landscapes to conserve, protect and restore.


January 8, 2010 – 9:00 a.m. – 12:00; 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Presentations

Grand Canyon-Parashant & Vermilion Cliffs National Monuments: A one-day symposium being planned for Friday, January 8, 2010, in St. George, Utah will feature a keynote speaker and managers’ panel to address the history and establishment of the monuments. Other sessions will highlight research and partnerships.

Contact: Scott Sticha, Public Affairs Specialist
Arizona Strip District Office, 345 E. Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790
435-688-3303/Cell 435-680-0814/Fax 435-688-3358

January 8, 2010
Black Canyon National Recreation Trail Celebration: The 10th Anniversary Outdoor Fair will be coordinated with the January 8, 2010, Trail/ARRA celebration of the Black Canyon National Recreation Trail event, five miles west of the Agua Fria National Monument.

Contact: Rem Hawes, Manager, Agua Fria National Monument
Hassayampa Field Office, 21605 N 7th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85027

January 9, 2010 – beginning at 11:00 a.m.
Agua Fria National Monument: The BLM will hold a 10th Anniversary event on January 9, 2010, at the scenic Horseshoe Ranch within the national monument. The Friends of Agua Fria will be assisting in planning, preparing for, and conducting the event. The event will include entertainment, speakers, dispersed lectures, displays and visitor booths, offer activities for adults and children.

Contact: Rem Hawes, Manager, Agua Fria National Monument
Hassayampa Field Office, 21605 N 7th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85027

March 20, 2010
Ironwood Forest National Monument Public Tours: BLM staff will visit areas of the IFNM to offer information on the various resources in the monument.

Contact: Mark Lambert, Manager, Ironwood Forest National Monument
Tucson Field Office, 12661 E Broadway, Tucson, AZ 85748

March 27, 2010
Ironwood Forest National Monument Work Day: Projects being considered include: shooting site cleanup, road repair, buffelgrass removal, and putting up signs.

Contact: Mark Lambert, Manager, Ironwood Forest National Monument
Tucson Field Office, 12661 E Broadway, Tucson, AZ 85748

Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area: 2010 is the 20th anniversary of the NCA’s designation by Congress through the Arizona Desert Wilderness Act of 1990 as well as the 10th anniversary of the NLCS.
Gila Box Day. A one-day event will be held on a Saturday in March 2010. It will begin with a series of short presentations on natural and cultural history at the SFO conference room. These will cover topics such as archaeology, history, wildlife, native fish, and recreation. Following the talks, the public can then caravan in their own vehicles to the west end of the Gila Box where people can enjoy their own picnic lunches at the Flying W Group Day Use Area. That will be the starting point for a series of walks; participants can chose one that best matches their interest.
Recreation/Cultural Track: A guided 1.5-mile walk on the Cottonwood Trail will include stops at the Kearny Historical Monument, Serna Cabin, and Bonita Creek Watchable Wildlife Viewing Area, ending at the Flying W and Riverview Campground.
Wildlife Track: A guided foray along Bonita Creek will focus on birding, beavers, and other wildlife that might be seen in the riparian area. A stop at the Bonita Creek Watchable Wildlife Viewing Area and a stroll along the riparian corridor will be included.
Fisheries Track: Participants can visit the Bonita Creek Nonnative Fish Barrier and learn about the nine species of native fish (highest number of any Arizona waterway) that inhabit the creek and BLM’s cooperative efforts to protect them. There will be opportunities to view some fish.
Contact: Diane Drobka, Public Affairs Specialist
Safford Field Office, 711 14th Avenue, Safford, AZ 85546

May 8, 2010
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area: The 10th Anniversary of the NLCS will be celebrated on SPRNCA at the San Pedro House in conjunction with International Migratory Bird Day, May 8, 2010. This celebration will focus in on the diversity of these specially designated areas that the BLM manages. Activities will include presentations, displays, and guided and unguided hikes.

June 5, 2010
Ironwood Forest National Monument Social Event: A catered, evening social event, potentially at the Heritage Clubhouse in Marana. Short presentations will be aligned to talk about the monument and the NLCS.

Contact: Mark Lambert, Manager, Ironwood Forest National Monument
Tucson Field Office, 12661 E Broadway, Tucson, AZ 85748

Evening on the Arizona Strip: A closing event the second week in November 2010 would tie into the annual ASIA-sponsored “Evening on the Arizona Strip”. A keynote speaker would be the primary spotlight. The event will likely reflect a pioneer or historic theme as has been a custom of past “Evening” events.

Contact: Scott Sticha, Public Affairs Specialist
Arizona Strip District Office, 345 E. Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790
435-688-3303/Cell 435-680-0814/Fax 435-688-3358
Events Without Confirmed Dates

Brown Bag Lunch Education Programs: The Arizona Strip Interpretive Association will hold regularly scheduled brown bag lunch education programs throughout the year, and several will focus on 10th anniversary themes and topics.

Contact: Scott Sticha, Public Affairs Specialist
Arizona Strip District Office, 345 E. Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790
435-688-3303/Cell 435-680-0814/Fax 435-688-3358

Wilderness Photo Contest: The Lake Havasu Field Office is considering aphoto contest highlighting wilderness areas of the field office or possibly of the district is under consideration.

Contact: Paul Fuselier, Wilderness Specialist
Lake Havasu Field Office, 2610 Sweetwater Avenue, Lake Havasu City, AZ 86406

National Landscape Conservation System Brown Bag Lunch Seminars in the Safford Field Office: The SFO currently hosts monthly talks throughout the year on a variety of topics related to natural and cultural history. These are open to the public and are well attended. Some have also involved field trips. In 2010, these talks will focus on the National Landscape Conservation System. There are eight NLCS units – six wilderness areas, one wilderness study area, and the Gila Box RNCA – within the SFO boundaries and a multitude of topics that can be featured.

Contact: Diane Drobka, Public Affairs Specialist
Safford Field Office, 711 14th Avenue, Safford, AZ 85546

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail:
The Painted Rock Petroglyph Site Campground, about 20 miles northwest of Gila Bend, Arizona, is the site of an anniversary event to be planned to recognize the Anza NHT as part of the NLCS. The event would occur in spring or fall of 2010.

Contacts: Rich Hanson, Manager, Sonoran Desert National Monument, 623-580-5532
Cheryl Blanchard, Archaeologist, Anza NHT liaison, 623-580-5676
Lower Sonoran Field Office, 21605 N 7th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85027

There is an additional celebration being planned for Sonoran Desert National Monument, which is tentatively planned for December 4, 2010. I’ll provide additional details when I receive them.

Returning to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

It’s been far too long since I’ve been to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a unit of BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System just west of Las Vegas, Nevada. It holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first out-of-state destinations that Kim and I went to together. Back in March 1998, we borrowed my dad’s old Cadillac and drove up to Las Vegas for a few days. We didn’t have much money, but Kim hadn’t seen Vegas before and it seemed like it could be a cheap vacation.

We stayed in a cheap Motel 6 just a block off the Vegas Strip, next to the MGM Grand, and spent the first night wandering up and down the Strip looking at the spectacle that is Las Vegas. Since we’re not drinkers or clubbers, and didn’t have any money to waste on slot machines, we simply took in the sights. The next morning, we headed out to a part of Vegas that far fewer see. We drove up to Charleston, turned west, and drove until we found Red Rock Canyon NCA. Red Rocks has some interesting resources and we found ourselves spending much of that day exploring the Calico Hills area. I still remember taking the a much-treasured picture of Kim curled up in an alcove.

After some time exploring that area, we continued along the loop drive, stopping at each turnout to read the signs and snap some more photos. We took a few short hikes before completing the loop drive and heading back to the bright lights of the city for dinner.

While Red Rock Canyon didn’t quickly vault to the top of our must-see-again list, we had a surprisingly good time there. We hadn’t expected to do much hiking at all on the trip, but the visit to RRCNCA and nearby Valley of Fire State Park made the trip uniquely special to me. Not only was it the first time we had ventured out the state together, but we did it on our own terms and managed to stumble upon some really cool places – foreshadowing, I suppose, the wandering National Park roadtrips we’re now known for.

So it was great to stop by and visit – even for a short time and by myself – and reflect on the importance of the site to the last decade of my life. And this time, I won’t let another decade go by before I return.

A permanent National Landscape Conservation System

Less than two hours ago, President Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, one of the most important conservation bills of the last decade. In addition to establishing three new National Park units, protecting 2 million acres of wilderness and 1,100 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers, the act made an important bureaucratic change – one that may not seem like much on its face, but may indeed play a major role in the future of public lands conservation. It permanently authorized the National Landscape Conservation System, which incorporates more than 26 million acres of the most culturally and ecological important lands managed the Bureau of Land Management. More on the Conservation System in another post. In the meanwhie, you can watch the bill signing below and reading the President’s signing statement.

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Here is the official signing statement:


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 30, 2009


Today I have signed into law H.R. 146, the “Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.” This landmark bill will protect millions of acres of Federal land as wilderness, protect more than 1,000 miles of rivers through the National Wild and Scenic River System, and designate thousands of miles of trails for the National Trails System. It also will authorize the 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System within the Department of the Interior.

Among other provisions, H.R. 146 designates three new units in our National Park System, enlarges the boundaries of several existing parks, and designates a number of National Heritage Areas. It creates a new national monument — the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument –- and four new national conservation areas, and establishes the Wyoming Range Withdrawal Area. It establishes a collaborative landscape-scale restoration program with a goal of reducing the risk of wildfire and authorizes programs to study and research the effects of climate change on natural resources and other research-related activities.

Treasured places from coast to coast will benefit from H.R. 146, including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan; Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia; Oregon’s Mount Hood; Idaho’s Owyhee Canyons; the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado; Zion National Park in Utah; remarkable landscapes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California; and wilderness-quality National Forest lands in Virginia and public lands in New Mexico.

This bipartisan bill has been many years in the making, and is one of the most important pieces of natural resource legislation in decades. This legislation also makes progress for which millions of Americans have long waited on another front. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act is the first piece of comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the lives of Americans living with paralysis. It creates new coordinated research activities through the National Institutes of Health that will connect the best minds and best practices from the best labs across the country, and focus their efforts through collaborative scientific research into a cure for paralysis, saving effort, money, and, most importantly, time. It will promote enhanced rehabilitation services for paralyzed Americans, helping develop better equipment and technology that allows them to live full and independent lives free from unnecessary barriers. This legislation will work to improve the quality of life for all those who live with paralysis, no matter the cause.

Section 8203 of the Act provides that the Secretary of the Interior shall appoint certain members of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission “based on recommendations from each member of the House of Representatives, the district of which encompasses the Corridor.” Because it would be an impermissible restriction on the appointment power to condition the Secretary’s appointments on the recommendations of members of the House, I will construe these provisions to require the Secretary to consider such congressional recommendations, but not to be bound by them in making appointments to the Commission.



March 30, 2009.

# # #

It’s taken the tremendous and relentless effort of many to pass the NLCS permanence legislation, and far more to pass the Omnibus Public Lands bill. Please join me in thanking everyone who helped make that possible, and in celebrating this momentous occasion.