Discover Papago Park

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An effort is underway to change how the public perceives and uses Papago Park. Phoenix Parks and Recreation Director Dale Larsen talks about how his city is partnering with Tempe, Scottsdale and the Salt River Pima Indian Community to shape the future of Papago Park.

Ted Simons: Papago park has a lot to offer visitors, even those who don't realize they're "at" the park. The zoo is part of Papago park, as is a baseball stadium, golf course and botanical garden. Now an effort is underway by Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale and the Salt River Pima Maricopa community to renovate and help unify the park. Here to talk about the plan is Phoenix parks and recreation director Dale Larsen. Good to have you here.

Dale Larsen: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: Turning Papago park into a tourist destination. Isn't it already?

Dale Larsen: It is, and I think it has for decades has an iconic geological, red rock, hole in the rock, destination area that people have always come to. They don't think of it in the same way you Balboa park in San Diego or others like it. And I think there's an anomaly of the kind of park, even though it's an urban desert for us.

Ted Simons: I understand one the problems you're trying to address is people will go to the zoo, the botanical gardens and then leave. I'm going to the zoo, you want them to say, "I'm going to the park."

Dale Larsen: Right, it needs to be the Phoenix zoo at Papago park. It needs to be the golf course at Papago park. Or hunt's tomb. All of the different stakeholders don't necessarily market and brand themselves as part of the overall park. It's not done that way at Balboa or golden gate. Those are marketing things and educational things that we need to better educate our visitors that when they're going it Papago park, they're going to a complex of features, not just a park.

Ted Simons: I understand a visitors' center would be part of the plan to renovate the park?

Dale Larsen: This is part of the challenge, there isn't think grand entrance
into Papago park. You come almost from the side streets. You don't have the large column aide, here's the visitors' center. The location would be critical. And it may be that the center would have to be more self-service than the typical, come on in, visit, we'll give you flyers and pamphlets and let you go. People enter Papago park from a variety of areas and we need to access it differently than we already do. the visitors center could be simple as long as we know people and visitors will go there from a common entry point which we don't have right now.

Ted Simons: There are also different managers of the park and seems like a criticism, trails aren't marked the same or connect as well as they should. Some of the information for tourists is there or not there, depending on what part of the park you're in. That needs to be addressed as well?

Dale Larsen: There's a disconnect and the partners involved in this master planning process, city of Tempe, ourselves, with Phoenix and Scottsdale and the Pima Indian groups realize there has to be a common theme. Signage, of promotion and marketability. A common theme of access on how visitors can get from one point to the other and that does not exist, not for a lack of wanting to do that. There hasn't been the vehicle to pull all of those stakeholders together and manage it as a coordinated effort.

Ted Simons: Is that something that a private conservancy could be involved in or rectify?

Dale Larsen: I think any creative way of bringing the players together and making it a affordable recreational facility without compromising the good success of the zoo and desert botanical gardens would be an excellent way of going about it.

Ted Simons: You mentioned Griffin park and Balboa park and all on coastal cities -- green, big, lots of shade. Lots of things that Papago park doesn't have. Considering the landscape, the weather. All of these things, can Papago park really be similar to those parks?

Dale Larsen: Personally and professionally, no. I don't see how it can. Papago park is a unique Sonoran desert feature and when you look at if in comparison to camelback, south mountain park, the desert nature is entirely different. The red rock, the hole in the rock and when you talk to the native American tribal interests that still claim that park as their own, after all of these generations, it has a different feel and a different relationship to it. To answer your question, no, it's not the same as those coastal parks or central park or grand park if Chicago. It's a desert park. So it has to be preserved and protected as such. Doesn't mean you can't play golf or have a picnic there. And doesn't mean you can't have a rich recreational experience. But as mentioned off-camera. How many are there at 115 degrees in the middle of the day? In March during spring training, the zoo has tourist, the garden, the hall of fame. People walking and biking and hiking, then it becomes one of those parks but that's on a seasonal basis.

Ted Simons: People will be watching this and say, oh, no, it's going to be one big commercial bonanza. How do you respond?

Dale Larsen: No, absolutely not. The integrity of that park, if there's one thing we heard loud and clear from all of the people in this public process, we like Papago park as it is, but want it better, safer and more accessible and connected.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

Dale Larsen: Thank you sir.

Dale Larsen:Director, Phoenix Parks and Recreation;

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