Her Colossal passion for park stays strong, even after 51 years

2013-07-26T00:00:00Z Her Colossal passion for park stays strong, even after 51 yearsKimberly Gonzales For The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A coin toss changed Martie Maierhauser's life.

In 1962, she picked correctly and won the last seat on a bus trip leaving out of Tucson for Mexico and Central America.

It was on that trip she met Joe Maierhauser, a South Dakotan who had come to the Tucson area a few years earlier and was operating Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

They would later marry, and Martie would pretty much spend the rest of her life at the park southeast of Tucson.

For her work at the park, Maierhauser recently received a Historic Preservation Award from the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation. She was recognized for dedicating more than half a century to preserving and operating the park.

"My entire life changed at the toss of the coin," Maierhauser, 72, said about how she ended up here.

A love for the outdoors

Martie Maierhauser, originally from the Black Hills area of South Dakota, always had an interest in the outdoors.

She was working at the Reptile Gardens, a reptile zoo south of Rapid City, S.D., when she took the bus trip that was organized by the owner of the zoo, who was a member of the Maierhauser family.

As she and Joe Maierhauser grew close, he introduced her to the park, which he had been managing since 1956.

"It's been my life, basically," she said of the park, which is owned by Pima County.

The diverse ecology and history intrigued her.

"She began to exert her own personality on the place, and eventually Joe just let her take over," said Tom Robles, a former park tour guide and longtime friend. "Martie taught herself so much, and her love for the desert was strong."

"Mover and shaker"

This year will be Martie Maierhauser's 51st year at the park.

Besides preservation, education is also on Maierhauser's agenda.

"We want people to have a good time. But we also want them to learn about where in the world they are," Maierhauser said.

Though her husband died in 2007 at the age of 79, Maierhauser continued her "life's work" at the park.

"She's been the mover and shaker," said Joe Maierhauser, her stepson and current CEO of Reptile Gardens.

"My father worked hard for it, but she had a passion for it," he said.

Martie Maierhauser runs the park along with a staff and management team. The park receives no taxpayer money and very little county funding.

This year the park is applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status to receive donations and grants.

Pam Marlow, the ranch operations manager of the park who has known Maierhauser for 25 years, said Maierhauser is serious about preserving every inch of the park.

"She lives and breathes it," Marlow said.

The park consists of Colossal Cave, La Posta Quemada Ranch, and Civilian Conservation Corps buildings. It also has a research library. The park covers 2,400 acres and offers trail rides, tours, picnic areas and a butterfly garden. It is open every day of the year.

Maierhauser hopes to have LED lighting, roads repaved and an enlarged research facility in the park someday.

"Martie taught herself so much, and her love for the desert was strong."

Tom Robles, a former park tour guide and longtime friend

Did you know

On July 10, 1992, Colossal Cave Mountain Park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Kimberly Gonzales is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at 573-4117 or starapprentice@azstarnet.com.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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