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Heritage Area to seek longer-term lease of state parks
With three years of local control of the two state parks in Yuma under the community's belt, it's time for a long-range view of the future of the Yuma Crossing Quartermaster Depot and Yuma Territorial Prison.
“How do we envision them 15 years from now and make them sustainable so people want to come back every year?” said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which took on the task of operating the two parks three years ago on behalf of the city when the state was going to close them for lack of funding. Currently the city is in the second of three three-year leases.
Now, however, Flynn is proposing that the city enter into a longer term agreement with the Arizona State Parks to continue to operate the two Yuma attractions under local control but in partnership with the state. He said there is precedent for a 25-year lease, but he is open to other options.
“The council has been very supportive,” he said, directing him to work toward a long-term relationship with the state and bring the agreement back to the council for formal action.
The goal is to develop a master plan for improvements to the parks so projects can be undertaken quickly as opportunities become available, Flynn said. It also would help the Heritage Area seek funding from such sources as the National Parks Service, grants and the city's 2 percent hospitality tax, he said, adding that he thinks groups would be interested in helping if there is a well thought-out plan.
“It was easy the first few years,” he said of improvements made so far. “There was so much to do ... so much deferred maintenance. We took what came first. Anything we did was an improvement. Now we need to think carefully about the next steps.”
He also noted that once the state was out from under the burden of the day-to-day operation, it has been generous in funding capital improvements. Over the last three years, the state has contributed $400,000 to replace roofs of the buildings at the Quartermaster Depot and restore the adobe sally port at the prison.
Some lessons have been learned in the last three years, Flynn said.
One is that a nonprofit organization running the parks can move more quickly than government.
A second is that under local control, the community has stepped up to raise funds and assist with the projects, Flynn said.For example, local contractors who wish to remain anonymous contributed a great deal of the labor for maintenance and restoration projects.
“That got people working, it benefitted the community and got a lot of work done,” he said. “We don't want to lose that.”
Another lesson is that a relationship with the state is important in marketing efforts and providing capital for preservation of the two historic sites.
“So why not all do what we do best?” Flynn said. “We've had some successes and the community doesn't want to give them back, but we also see the value of the state's role and want to build on that. If we're going to manage, we need to manage long term.”