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Despite funding freefall, hope remains for Arizona's parks

Bryan Martyn

KINGMAN - Bryan Martyn talked about the state of parks funding when he visited Kingman last week - and the picture isn't pretty.

"The agency's budget in 2007 was $81 million," said Martyn, executive director of Arizona State Parks. "This year, it's $22 million.

"The Main Street program is out of money and hasn't been renewed. Parks - historic parks in particular - are no longer important. I get it. It's cops, courts and kids, and I get it, but I also understand the challenges it places on city parks. You'd have a hard time charging for picnic tables and barbecues."

Martyn, a former Pinal County supervisor, visited Kingman as part of a statewide camping tour.

He oversees the agency's budget, 30 parks, 260 full and part-time employee and about 1,000 park volunteers, as well as the State Historic Preservation Office.

And he wasn't delivering all bad news.

In fact, he said he's looking for ways that rural communities can use their recreational and historic assets to drive economic development.

"We need to get the 4 million people in Maricopa to visit rural Arizona," he said. "Last year, we had the highest attendance and revenue in the history of the agency. We don't receive any general fund dollars and 72 percent of our funding is at the gate."

He also noted that there's still money left - for now - in the Heritage Fund, a voter-approved pot of lottery money for parks and historic preservation. The fund is in its last grant cycle.

"We've come to the end of Heritage, but don't give up on it," Martyn said. "There's $650,000 left - if you have the matching funds, apply."

Martyn cited Mohave County as one of only three Arizona counties - along with Pima and Maricopa - with a county parks department.

"Mohave County is fortunate to have a self-sustaining parks department," he said. "Under our 'no child left inside' commitment, we want people to relax and enjoy the outdoors and we're always looking to expand our portfolio to areas that can make money [and] be self-sustaining."

Some of those who attended the meeting took the message to heart and said Kingman is starting to see some positive changes

Josh Noble, the Chamber of Commerce's tourism director, mentioned new restaurants and other activity in downtown Kingman.

"The renovation of Central Commercial, the work on the Brunswick and the opening of Beale Celebrations, the train depot and museum opening - investment begets business and business results in additional investment, and all those little pieces add up," he said.

D'arcy Wagner, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said she was glad the state parks department "keeps us informed."

"[Martyn] brought some good ideas to our attention," she said. "Yes, it's possible we could develop a new property, get the infrastructure in place, but then he brings you right back down to earth by talking about the costs involved."

Jamie Taylor, chairwoman of the Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce, said she "went with the hope that state parks would be able to help us clean up and beautify downtown in advance of the International Route 66 Festival."

But there are obstacles, Taylor acknowledged, such as the department's tight budget and the time needed to apply for a grant.

"We've got stakeholders involved that have donated paint, material and labor, and over the next few months, I think we're going to see significant changes downtown," Taylor said.

"I think the festival will be the impetus needed to renew interest in continuing the redevelopment of downtown."


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