Catalina State Park is a 5,500-acre gem, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. They are drawn by views of the soaring Catalina Mountains, the miles of hiking and biking trails, the overnight camping and equestrian areas and the rich and varied program of activities organized by Park rangers and volunteers.
Photographers, award-winning professionals and amateurs alike, and birdwatchers flock to the Park as well as many visitors who are looking for solitude and a quiet place for reflection.
Catalina State Park is also the site of family reunions, weddings, school picnics, the widely-acclaimed Tucson Audubon Society’s Institute of Desert Ecology, the solar potluck, and the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association’s “Star Night.” The Park is home to the popular “Everyone Runs, Everyone Walks” races that take place in the spring and fall of each year, with the next event planned for Sept. 22.
Catalina State Park is also one of five Arizona State Parks chosen for the 2013 Arizona Family Campout Program, which is an overnight program for families who have done little or no camping.
Jack McCabe, who has been at Catalina State Park for 18 years, is one of the full-time rangers. Led by park manager Steve Haas, rangers work tirelessly to maintain and improve park services, welding corrals in the equestrian center, taking care of tile work in the bathrooms, replacing lighting, redoing drywall, and fixing plumbing throughout the Park. They are ably assisted by dozens of volunteers.
“They make this park run. They are the key to its success,” said Haas.
Park volunteers staff the ranger station at the front entrance and the gift shop at the trail head, help to maintain park trails, and also act as campground hosts living in one of the park’s campgrounds. Some park volunteers are trained to be site stewards and are helping to protect and preserve cultural and historic sites, such as Romero Ruin.
Park volunteers also help to organize and staff many of the activities that take place at the park such as the reptile/wildlife exhibits Saturday mornings through April, which are organized by the Nature Program; the occasional Wednesday morning bird hikes with Mary Ellen, and the occasional Sunday geological walks led by Karen Gray.
Since November 2012, Park volunteer Richard Boyer has been presenting “Bighorn Basics.” This informative talk has been attracting a lot of interest recently because of the plan by the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society (ADBSS) and the Arizona Game and Fish Department to reintroduce bighorn sheep to the Santa Catalina Mountains as early as November 2013.
Although bighorn sheep thrived in the area for many years, they have not been seen in the park since the late 1990s.
Where is it: 11570 North Oracle Road, Tucson
When is it open: The park is always open. There is someone at the ranger station at the entrance to the park from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
What can you do at the park: Hike, bike, walk your dog (on a leash!), ride horses, picnic, camp, attend informational talks, exhibits, etc.
Can I make campsite reservations: Yes. Make online campsite reservations 24 hours a day, seven days a week at AZStateParks.com. You may also call the Reservation Center at (520) 586-2283. You can call seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST. There is a $5 non-refundable reservation fee per site.
How much does It cost: 1t costs $7 per vehicle (up to 4 adults) or $3 per individual/bicycle to enter the park. The cost to camp overnight ranges from $15 (non-electric site) to $25 (electric site). Pay fees to the ranger/volunteer at the Park entrance or at the “iron ranger.”
More information: Call (520) 628-5798 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., or visit the park’s website at AZStateParks.com/Parks/CATA.