Since Oct. 1 of 2009, Oracle State Park has been closed to the public. This Saturday, on Feb. 4, that will change.
On the first day the park is reopened, it will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission to the park will be free. There will be a guided bird walk, tours of the historic Kannally Ranch House, presentations, booths and activities for kids.
After more than a two-year hiatus, the park will re-open to the public on Saturdays from sun up to sun down, and the park will be available for school field trips Wednesdays through Fridays.
The reopening of the park isn’t coming from reestablishing funds from the State government, but from the hard work and the generosity of donors.
Jennifer Rinio, who is an environmental education park ranger, has worked for the Arizona State Parks for the past 12 years. Ten of those years have been at Oracle State Park.
“This was a dream job for me,” Rinio said. “I live out here and walk up a little path to work every morning. I love living on a wildlife refuge and I am interested in the history of this place. So it was crushing when it closed.”
The Arizona State Parks moved Rinio to Catalina State Park, where she has worked for the past two years.
During those two years, the park was not abandoned. The Friends of the Oracle State Park did more that $21,000 worth of renovations and improvements to the property. Though its members did not know the future of the park, and whether or not it would ever reopen to the public, they did the improvements on the 4,000-acre park anyway.
The Friends of Oracle State Park is comprised of about 120 members and has been around for about 15 years. The members help contribute and volunteer at the park.
Mary Ann Pogany has been with the group for four years and is now the group’s president.
“We are really happy to be able to show it,” Pogany said. “We always said while we were fixing it up and making improvements that, ‘It is such a shame that the public can’t see this.’ So we are so happy that the public can now come out and see it.”
During those two years, the group worked with the gardens and added an educational theme to them. The group also made signs, cleaned walls, did historic upgrades, preserved an early 19th album, framed branding irons found on the property along with many other improvements.
The Friends were able to do this by sending mailers asking for donations from its members and from the people in their communities. The Friends also held a golf tournament as a fundraiser. With matching some of the funds donated, including $2,500 from Pinal County Attorney Jim Walsh, the group raised $21,000.
The $21,000 is the amount the Arizona State Parks told the Friends group it would need to raise in order to run and operate the park on a limited basis for six months out of the year.
In the park’s last full year in 2009, it cost about $271,000 to operate with four full-time employees and the park was open seven days a week. With about 11,000 to 12,000 visitors each year, the park brought in a revenue of about $18,000. The difference was paid mainly with state funds.
This year, the park will be open February, March and April, and then it will be closed until September, and will be kept open until November.
Jay Ream is the assistant director of park services for the Arizona State Parks.
“It’s really an experiment,” Ream said about running the park intermittently. “It’s going to rely a great deal on the Friends of Oracle State Park from providing volunteers, to providing the programs. We really pretty much count on the schools being able to participate as well.”
Schools are invited to the park, with groups up to 60 kids, with specialized programs for first- through third-graders and fourth- through sixth-graders. Costs are $2 per student for the field trips.
For visitors coming on Feb. 4, the regular admission fee of $7 will be waived.
People wishing to volunteer at the park or set up a field trip with their school can call the park at (520) 896-2425. To find out more about the Friends of Oracle State Park, visit its site at www.friendsosp.org.