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  • ECAP donations help Parklands Foundation support NRPR

    Editor's Note: For the next few months, eScoop will highlight a nonprofit as an example of a class of nonprofits that benefit from annual employee ECAP contributions, including those organizations that directly support County programs, operations or missions.

    Pima County possesses an abundance of natural and cultural gifts. From the Rincon Mountains on Tucson’s east side to the Growler Valley west of Ajo, the County offers a remarkable variety of things to do, see, experience and explore. Thatdogs bounty draws millions of visitors and thousands of new residents to the area each year and a rapidly-growing community stretches public funding. Competing priorities often puts parks last in line. That’s where the Parklands Foundation steps in.

    “Parks are not a mandated function of County government,” Parklands Foundation President Mike Hellon said. “State Law requires the County to have a Sheriff, a Board of Supervisors, a Recorder, a County Attorney and a Treasurer and Assessor and all these mandated departments. There’s nothing that mandates the County do anything for parks and recreation. That all has to come out of discretionary funds, which means those funds are limited.”

    ECAP contributions support six other County-affiliated agencies:

    32 N. Stone Ave., Suite 1400
    Tucson, AZ 85701

    Neighbors for Justice, Inc.
    P.O. Box 40282
    Tucson, AZ 85717

    Friends of Pima Animal Care Center
    P.O. Box 85370
    Tucson, AZ 85754-5370

    Friends of the Pima County Library
    2230 N. Country Club Rd.
    Tucson, AZ 85716

    Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteers of Pima County Inc.
    1750 E. Benson Hwy.
    Tucson, AZ 85714-1758

    Sullivan Jackson Employment Center
    400 E. 26th Street 
    Tucson, AZ 85713 

    Formed in 1985 by volunteers, the Foundation seeks "to protect and enhance the parks of Pima County, Arizona: this includes funding park improvements, the acquisition of parklands, and the enhancement and enlargement of recreation programs."

    “Parks and open spaces help define us as a community and are necessary to our quality of life,” NRPR Director Chris Cawein said. “The Parklands Foundation plays a critical role in that it enables NRPR to carry out its mission of providing recreational facilities and programs not covered by its annual budget.”

    Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation oversees some 250,000 acres of open space and 155 park properties, which includes 49 parks, 25 trailheads, 13 community centers, 11 pools, three equestrian arenas, two golf courses, and a native plant nursery offering amenities, events and programs for anyone who hikes, bikes, swims, camps, shoots or just wants to play ball. 

    By law NRPR cannot directly receive private donations. That’s where the non-profit Foundation steps in, accepting and routing donors’ gifts to the intended park, project or recreation program and augmenting gifts when more funds are needed.

    “We have no other source of income other than donations. We use all of the money for improvements, maintenance and enhancements of NRPR programs and facilities,” Hellon said. “Other than administrative expenses, such as filing tax returns, paying for grazing leases, we don’t spend any money at all that is not requested by the Director of NRPR. Whether we can respond to his request depends on available funds.”

    Donations not earmarked for specific uses help underwrite free summertime swim sessions and lessons for low-income youth at County pools as well as an annual outing for over 4,000 local schoolchildren to Old Tucson Studios and efforts to recognize the efforts of NRPR volunteers, whom Hellon called the lifeblood of NRPR and the community.

    While the Foundation concerns itself with the health of the whole NRPR system, Hellon admits he has some favorite sites.

    “I’m partial to Canoa Ranch. I think it’s a spectacular facility that has great potential if we can raise the funds to bring it up to the level of restoration it needs,” Hellon said. “In my part of town Brandi Fenton Memorial Park would be my favorite amenity. It’s a terrific general-purpose, multi-use facility that provides excellent recreational activities for people in that part of the County.”

    Current Foundation projects include construction of a path, ramadas and picnic benches at the newly-built pond at Canoa Ranch, and conversion of a ramada into a much-needed restroom on the east side of Brandi Fenton Memorial Park. Also underway: a $100,000 capital campaign to install a covered playground at Winston Reynolds-Manzanita Park. The amenity would go in next to the park’s new splash pad, making one of Pima County's most heavily-used facilities even more appealing to visitors.swim

    “Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation is, if not unique, extremely rare as a department in the kinds of services it provides,” Hellon said. “It’s not just parks but natural resources. The hiking trails that we have and The Chuck Huckelberry Loop is unique in this country as an urban amenity for walking and biking and just getting exercise. The responsibility of NRPR for all of the natural resources, lands, all the parks all the recreational facilities is so much greater than the Board can ever fund on an on-going basis through tax dollars. So people who value that, who believe that’s an important part of the lifestyle of Southern Arizona, can help by allocating some of their discretionary income and donations to this cause.”

    The Parklands Foundation is one of seven ECAP-approved organizations that help County departments carry out their duties. During last year’s campaign six ECAP donors earmarked $1,677 to the Parklands Foundation.

    “ECAP has helped to make a difference to many of those in our community in great need,” Cawein said. “Because Parklands Foundation is part of the ECAP program, County employees have an opportunity to partner with NRPR to help keep our educational and children programs at minimal cost to families and our parks free and open to the public.”

    For more information about how to donate through ECAP or to join the ECAP Committee, contact Committee Chairs Ray Velez, 520-724-4489, and Margo Chavez, 520-724-9169.

    Nonprofits to be featured in eScoop over the coming months include those representing the following areas: Health, Youth, Literacy, Housing, Hunger, and Family Support.
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