Monday, July 17th, the Arizona State Parks held their second public meeting on the future of the Rockin’ River Ranch. As before, in their first public meeting (held on June 1st), their stated intent was to solicit more input on the design of the proposed new Rockin’ River State Park.
Maps were passed out summarizing three different design options. A slide presentation was made (but not handed out). I would like to report there was something new being presented, but to paraphrase Henry Ford in his 1909 sales pitch on his Model T car, “a customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
It is obvious that regardless of public input, the Arizona State Parks is determined to accept only public input that fits their own design. Their view is the new park has to make a profit regardless of the problems it creates.
One would like to think there would be a lively discussion of the issues. Not so, the meeting was contro lled in a manner to encourage only the submission of written questions (of which only selected questions were answered).
So, of the many issues, which had the most attention? Salt Mine Road appeared to be the winner. During the meeting, the Arizona State Parks described Salt Mine as “just a dirt road that has been paved”.
They recognized there were little to no turn lanes, turn-offs, or turn-around points. The Arizona State Parks did recognize the introduction of traffic (composed of visitors comprised of 50 RVs, families renting the 20 cabins, numerous campers, horse trailers, ATVs, and trailers with canoes and kayaks) will cause problems on Salt Mine Road.
Friday and Sunday afternoons will introduce significant traffic problems as a caravan of these guests arrive and depart the new park. Park visitors will be forced to use private roads and properties to pull off, turn around, or repair breakdowns.
So does the Arizona State Parks have a solution? The short answer is NO! Their attitude is downplay the issue and force Yavapai County to improve the road (watch your tax bill) at some future date.
A recommendation from the audience that the opening of the park be postpone until Salt Mine Road could be modernized was summarily declined. There is no commitment that road improvements to Salt Mine Road will ever be made. End result, the Arizona State Parks will go forward without correcting the Salt Mine Road problems.
This may get worse. If Yavapai County decides to upgrade the road, they will have to compete with park visitors and local residents while trying to complete their work. This makes no sense. Other issues were brought up but Arizona State Parks made it very clear they are not interested in any problems they would cause outside the park nor the many safety issues inside the park.
So where do we go from here. The Arizona State Parks is focused on a park that provides a profit. The local residents are concerned that the Arizona State Parks is creating a public nuisance, a number of safety hazards, and future issues for the local community.
The Arizona State Parks has asked for our input, but most are filed to the trash can. Brent Hallock, a member of our Salt Mine community, worked hard to get on the Park’s planning board. He attended an advisory committee meeting and the Arizona State Parks’ public meeting. He spent hours on a presentation of alternatives only to be ignored. Brent subsequently resigned. He felt the State Park representatives were only paying him lip service.
So let’s start here. Here are our community recommendations and input. Keep in mind that we have been blocked from reviewing any materials or reports generated by the Arizona State Parks’ project committee. Also, a written request to Sue Black, the Executive Director of Arizona State Parks to make information on the project available to the public was ignored. Rockin’ River information (meeting minutes, presentations, and park studies) are top secret and cannot be trusted to the community.
Obviously, we can’t work through the Arizona State Parks’ process so we will have to work around them. So here are our recommendations based on the limited knowledge they have provided.
Take the astronomical price ($8 million) the Arizona State Parks paid for the ranch and the anemic $4 million to start the new park’s operations and reallocate it to the state’s teachers’ salaries and first responder pensions. Both are financially in trouble. Wasting public money on this park is financially irresponsible.
This is not to mention the millions required to rework Salt Mine Road nor the loss of tax revenue to the county from property taxes. The current funding is only the beginning of a large sink hole this park will cause tax payers.
Use the Rockin’ River Ranch as an equestrian and camping facility. No RVs, no ATVs, and no alcohol. This alternative protects the environment. Horse owners as a general rule have more horse sense.
Design the park in a manner to provide large buffer zones between public activities and adjoining private land. Abutting park visitors up against livestock, agriculture activities (plowing, burning wheat stubble), the Arizona Wholesale Nursery is a recipe for problems.
Without this buffer, the public is in danger of injury or possible loss of life. This is not an exaggeration. Imagine a small kid from a parked RV wondering into a pasture with a Texas Longhorn bull.
If recommendations 2 or 3 is chosen, it makes only good sense that Salt Mine Road be studied and deficiencies corrected before the Park is opened.
There are a number of other factors that need to be addressed.
• A proper archeology impact study needs to be conducted. This study should target issues both inside and outside the park and be made by James Graceffa and his team at the Verde Valley Archeology Society.
• A “first responder” impact analysis should be made by local law enforcement, fire, and medical teams.
• The Arizona State Parks’ project team has in their possession visitor projections. These need to be released to the public.
• A traffic impact study needs to be performed by a professional traffic consulting firm and Salt Mine Road needs to be improved to handle the new traffic load. Then fix Salt Mine Road.
• The Arizona State Parks needs to agree to supplying and maintaining signage in and outside the park to address nuisance and safety issues.
• A five year financial plan/budget for the park needs to be built/released to the public. Inspection of the ranch and the road make current funding infeasible for ongoing operations.
• The Arizona State Parks must agree that future major changes to the planned park will not be made without public (to include neighbors) approval.
It is doubtful the Arizona State Parks will comply with any of this input, but bottom line, the Arizona State Parks have the cart before the horse. It would appear with their current attitude these issues may require legal assistance. We recommend they meet with us and have an open and meaningful dialog. We would ask for a written response from Sue Black, the Executive Director, Arizona State Parks.
The Rockin’ River Boondoggle continues.
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Mike Noble is a Salt Mine Road Resident