Volunteers clean up trails at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek. (Photo by Elliott Adams/PIN Bureau)
By Elliott Adams
It’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning and around 17 people have gathered at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek, not as visitors but as volunteers. The group is made up of individuals from the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter’s Saguaro Group, as well as volunteers who heard about the cleanup event from the group’s Meetup site.
Doug Murphy, of the Sierra Club’s Saguaro Group, helped to organize the trail cleanup, and said that when it comes to conserving the environment, he likes to do service projects that involve physical aid to the state’s nature parks and scenery.
According to Murphy, these volunteer events developed following tighter budgets for park maintenance funds. A budget report for Maricopa County’s fiscal year 2009-2010 states that the fund for Spur Cross had decreased due to reduced funding from Cave Creek, the town that supports park operations through sales tax revenues.
In regard to funding for overall county operational park expenses, nearly 93 percent of the money is self-funded (including revenue from user fees), according to a study by Arizona State University and the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance.
“The annual budget for Spur Cross was dramatically cut during the recession and has yet to recover fully,” Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department volunteer coordinator Kim Richard said in an email. “The park supervisor and maintenance staff positions were eliminated soon after to assist in savings. During that time and beyond, the service of the dedicated volunteers has greatly impacted the conservation efforts and overall maintenance of the area.”
In 2010, the state of Arizona also faced a deficit that led to $1.1 billion in spending reductions, the largest cut in the state’s history,
According to an executive budget summary from the Office of the Arizona Governor, the state prioritized budget funding for areas such as public safety and denied a general fund appropriation to keep state parks operational.
According to a 2009 report from Maricopa County Parks and Recreation, the county department lacked sufficient funding to maintain park systems and a formal preventative maintenance program.
Due to this, the county relies on its volunteers, with Spur Cross volunteers providing over 3,600 service hours at the park in fiscal year 2016.
Richard said that those volunteer hours in various areas such as maintenance, collecting entry fees and interpretive programs equated to a cost savings of approximately $83,000 for the department.
Murphy said Spur Cross park only has one full-time ranger, who also helps to provide the volunteer group with various tools needed for the repairs.
Though Richard said the parks and recreation department added a part-time maintenance position at Spur Cross this year, additional support is helpful. “With trail work, general clean up, and other duties, we continue to rely heavily on volunteers to fill the reduced staffing,” Richard said.
Many of the park’s trail routes become damaged by seasonal storms, increasing the amount of debris in the park and the maintenance needed within the park itself. The volunteers remove this debris from the trails and reroute the park’s pathways that have been affected by heavy weather. This particular team also rearranged some desert plants and rocks to create a wall that would guide any future rain runoff away from the area’s set trails, possibly easing the workload of any future maintenance projects.
Murphy said that these volunteer cleanup projects happen a couple of times a year, usually during seasons when Arizona’s weather is more appropriate for outdoor labor. Unsurprisingly, he said these cooler months also attract more visitors to outdoor recreation areas across the country.
A 2012 report by the State of Arizona Office of the Auditor General suggested that the long-term financial stability of the Arizona State Park Board system was at risk, partially due to factors like declining revenues and visitation rates.
Following loss of revenues, the State Parks Board cut operating costs through methods like staff reduction and also partnered with different organizations, like the Sierra Club, in an attempt to stabilize park sustainability.
The Arizona State Parks Board faced another challenge during the 2017 legislative session. Arizona House Bill 2369 would have eliminated the Arizona State Parks Board and instead concentrated power to a singular director position. Although HB 2369 initially passed this legislative session, a Senate panel later voted to keep the State Parks Board in place, following an amendment to the bill.
Though inspiration for these trail cleanup projects is somewhat derived from lack of resources, the volunteers are not lacking in personal passion for protecting the environment and conserving the state’s illustrious natural scenery. Hear what Arizonans had to say about what other environmental issues they are concerned about and how they work to combat those issues:
Environmentalists go to Arizona State Capitol to lobby for ‘protecting the Arizona we all share’
By Elliott Adams
Conservationists and environmental advocates met at the Arizona State Capitol in February to voice their concerns to state legislators during “Environmental Day at the Capitol.”
“We had more than 160 people participate from 25 legislative districts and we met with more than half of the legislature,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.
During the event, individuals from across Arizona gathered to meet with state legislators to express their concerns, pose questions to lawmakers and track bills passing through state government relating to environmental issues.
At a Grand Canyon Chapter meeting, Bahr led a group in a presentation on how to effectively connect with Arizona legislators as well as update the members on current legislation related to environmental issues.
The group’s main concern was Arizona House Bill 2369, legislation that would have eliminated the Arizona State Parks Board and instead concentrated power to a singular director position in an effort to streamline state government. Though HB 2369 initially passed this legislative session, a Senate panel later voted to keep the State Parks Board in place, following an amendment to the bill.
The group also discussed House Bill 2022, a law that provides an exception to unlawful discharge of firearms in situations of shooting snakes, a bill that Bahr said “sends a bad message and creates public safety issues.” The law would exempt individuals from punishment when discharging a firearm within city limits using rat or snake shot pellets. Advocates of the legislation argue that the law would provide extra safety against the reptiles and rodents. While the bill passed in the House, it later died in the Senate.
Kathy Mohr-Almeida, a member of the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter Executive Committee, led a group of members from legislative district 25 to the state capitol for Environmental Day where they also discussed House Bill 2330, legislation that would have reestablished an expired income tax credit for residential water augmentation systems, such as processes that collect rainwater for future use on residential property. This bill later passed a House committee vote 8 to 1 but did not move forward this session.
Early in the day, Mohr-Almeida’s group met with State Sen. Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs, who informed the group on how House bills become law and also encouraged their political activism. Students from Westwood High School in Mesa joined the District 25 group who, along with Sierra Club members, also met with Republican State Rep. Michelle Udall to share their opinions on the environment.
The students told Udall they were concerned about pollution in the air and water, as well as the state’s energy resources. Many of the group members voiced their support for solar energy in Arizona; however, Udall said that it is a struggle to find a way to store energy that would be cost-effective, as most energy has to be used when it’s created. Even though environmental concerns aren’t always quick fixes in government, Udall said she always appreciates constituents discussing their thoughts with legislators:
Mohr-Almeida’s 14-year-old daughter, Anna-Rose Mohr-Almeida, has been involved in environmental activism since she was in second grade when she started making jewelry out of recycled materials. During a press conference at the capitol’s rose garden, Anna-Rose joined other students in sharing her concerns for Arizona’s air, water and overall climate.
Anna-Rose also spoke during a prayer circle in the capitol’s rose garden, where leaders from various faiths made speeches about environmental protection.
State Sen. Juan Mendez, who is a Democrat and atheist, also spoke during the prayer circle where he emphasized the importance of nature and protecting it.
“A lot of the measures that I’ve introduced to protect the environment haven’t moved this session,” Mendez said. “But with your help we can bring a lot more attention to real, practical things that we could be doing here.”