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Arizona State Parks named best in country

Representatives from Arizona State Parks and Trails accept the National Recreation and Park Association’s “Gold Medal” award, recognizing AZSPT as the best-managed state parks system in the country.

BRANDON MESSICK/For the Miner

Representatives from Arizona State Parks and Trails accept the National Recreation and Park Association’s “Gold Medal” award, recognizing AZSPT as the best-managed state parks system in the country.

For Arizona State Parks and trails staff, it was a big honor – literally – this week to be named the best-managed state park system in the U.S. The award was given by the National Recreation and Park Association, in the form of a circular plaque about 20 lb. and one foot in diameter.

Arizona Parks and Trails Executive Director Susan Black on Thursday brought the award home from a national NRPA awards ceremony in Louisiana, and remembers the effort involved in getting it through airport security.

“The TSA agents got on the Intercom and asked people to congratulate us,” Black said. “The award is exciting and humbling. When I got back and walked into the office with the Gold Medal plaque…it gave a sense of pride not just to Arizona State Parks and Trails, but to everyone in the state.”

Arizona State Parks and Trails was among four competitors in this year’s NRPA Gold Medal awards ceremony, vying against Tennessee, Washington and Wyoming for the right to be called the best. Black credits the support of Gov. Doug Ducey for State Parks’ success this year; as well as efforts by the organization’s rangers, staff and supporters.

“It was Ducey’s goal from day one to improve Arizona parks and trails,” Black said. “We had to roll up our sleeves, and it took our rangers, partners and everybody else to make this happen. It took the whole team to get us here.”

Among State Parks’ accomplishments are the Havasu Riviera project, as well as pending renovations to Cattail Cove State Park. With a new website, call center and increased focus on the agency’s capital development projects, Black says her department has undergone a transformation over the past year, for the better. According to Black, that transformation resulted in about three million visitors to Arizona’s state parks over the past year, representing a 30-percent growth over visitation in 2015.

“It was hard work, and it’s nice to be recognized as setting the bar.”

According to Ducey, the achievement of Arizona State Parks and Trails is a benefit to everyone in the state, be they residents or tourists. “Winning the Gold Medal is a testament to the hard work, collaboration and innovation that Arizona State Parks and Trails demonstrated to get us to this point,” Ducey said in a press release last week.

The Gold Medal Award honors state park systems throughout the U.S. that demonstrate excellence in long-range planning, resource management and innovative approaches in delivering superb park and recreation services with fiscally sound business practices.