Catalina State Park Celebrates 40 Years
May 22, 2023
PHOENIX – Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month. The park serves as one of Tucson’s most popular hiking and camping destinations, and is well-known for its trails and saguaro-studded scenery.
Catalina State Park was shaped and molded by Arizonans who had a vested interest in this area at the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. The park was signed into legislation in 1974, and over the next three years its master development plan was formed by students of the School of Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Arizona and completed by a citizen’s planning committee. After a complicated series of land trades, leases, a land purchase and initial construction of facilities, Catalina State Park was dedicated by Governor Bruce Babbitt on May 25, 1983.
“Just in terms of visitation, Catalina is our third-busiest park in the state,” said Bob Broscheid, executive director of Arizona State Parks and Trails. “We know there are members of the community who visit there daily to hike the trails and enjoy the calming surroundings. Part of what makes this park special is the dedicated staff and volunteers who ensure everyone has a great visit.”
Fiscal year 2022 welcomed nearly 270,000 outdoor enthusiasts who came from across the country to enjoy Catalina State Park’s 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams. The park offers 120 campsites, an equestrian campground with horse pens, picnic areas, and an expansive network of multi-use trails leading into the Coronado National Forest. Visitors also enjoy a variety of interpretive nature programs and the park’s popular monthly Music in the Mountains concert series.
The park benefits from the support of its local community, such as the Friends of Catalina State Park. Established in 2012, this group sponsors park programs as well as park enhancement projects. In addition, more than 170 volunteers are actively involved at the park each year, welcoming visitors, maintaining trails and facilities, serving as camp hosts and more. During the busy season from October-April, nearly 16,000 volunteer hours are contributed to the park. A handful of volunteers have been supporting the park for decades, some since it opened in 1983.
“We’re grateful for the support from the greater Tucson community, our volunteers, conservation groups who provide stewardship to Catalina State Park, and most of all, our hardworking and passionate staff,” said Steve Haas, park manager. “Having the investment of the community and our partners means we can continue to provide amazing experiences that will reach future generations.”
Prior to its development, the Cañada del Oro region was used by some notable figures in ranching history–the Romero and the Sutherland families as well as George Pusch and John Zellweger. In the centuries before modern use, the Hohokam people lived in this region of the Tucson Basin. Evidence of their settlement here can be seen at the Romero Ruins archaeological site, accessed via the Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail. The site includes the surface features of the remains from a Hohokam village dating back to about 500 A.D. as well as remains of the Romero homestead.
In summer 2020, the park was impacted by the Bighorn Fire, which was started by a lightning strike in the Catalina Mountains. The fire consumed nearly 120,000 acres, including property in and around the park, before being extinguished. During the fire, the park served as a staging area for firefighters battling the blaze.
In late 2020, a new Master Development Plan was approved for the park. Additionally, Catalina State Park has received $5.8 million in funding for fiscal year 2024 to design and build a bridge spanning the Cañada del Oro wash that separates the entrance of the park from the campground. Since the fire, this wash has been more prone to flooding from rain and runoff in the mountains.
More information about the park, the trails, the campground, and its history can be found at AZStateParks.com/Catalina.
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For information about the more than 30 Arizona State Parks and Natural Areas, the Trails and Off-Highway Vehicle Programs and State Historic Preservation Office call 1-877-MY-PARKS or visit AZStateParks.com.
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