Arizona State Parks and Trails, which oversees popular Catalina State Park near Tucson, has been recognized by the National Recreation and Park Association as the best-managed state park system in the nation.

Arizona topped three other finalists — park systems in Tennessee, Wyoming and Washington State — to win the association’s Gold Medal for management. The association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of public parks, recreation and conservation.

Arizona officials cited several factors that helped in achieving Gold Medal status: “Over the last two years, Arizona State Parks and Trails has established a self-sufficient funding structure, achieved record visitation and revenue and implemented a plan to reinvest in the system and create new parks.”

Sue Black, executive director of Arizona State Parks and Trails, said the award reflects more than staff efforts and agency policies.

“This is about everyone in Arizona who contributes to our success or gets to enjoy our beautiful parks,” Black said. “It’s a huge honor to be considered the best-managed state park agency in the country, and we hope everyone will get out and see these amazing parks firsthand.”

A PARK CLOSE TO HOME

Catalina State Park north of Tucson, viewed by many as the city’s “backyard state park,” is known for its diversity of terrain and rich array of recreational options.

“What I have always loved most about Catalina State Park is that — even within a now more urbanized environment — you can still come to the park for amazing hiking and riding trails, clean facilities, exceptional wildlife and nature viewing, opportunities for solitude and reflection, and wilderness-like experiences,” said Steven Haas, park manager.

“I am super proud of the Catalina State Park staff, over 135 Catalina volunteers, and the Friends of Catalina State Park who are so passionate and committed to protecting and preserving this natural gem of a park,” Haas said.

Recreational options at the park include:

  • Hiking: Trails range from the easy 2.3-mile Canyon Loop Trail to the more challenging Sutherland Trail, a 9.1-mile (one way) route leading steeply into the Catalina Mountains.
  • Bird-watching: The mile-long Birding Trail loops through prime bird habitat.
  • Archaeology walk: A 0.75-mile loop trail leads to the remains of an ancient Hohokam village dating to about 500 A.D. Walkers will also pass the site of the historic Romero Homestead.
  • Horseback riding: The park’s equestrian center provides a staging area for horseback rides on park trails.
  • Camping: Park campgrounds provide sites for tent and vehicle camping.
MORE PARK SITES

Other sites in Southern Arizona include Oracle State Park near Oracle, Kartchner Caverns State Park south of Benson, Patagonia Lake State Park southwest of Patagonia, and Tubac Presidio State Historical Park near Tubac.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@tucson.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz