Dixie Arizona Strip Interpretive Association to cease operations due to financial struggle

A northern view from the edge of the Arizona Strip, which covers nearly 2 million acres in Northwestern Arizona, Arizona Strip, Arizona, June 11, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After serving Southern Utah for more than 25 years, the Dixie Arizona Strip Interpretive Association will cease operations at the end of June.

A dirt road disappears into the Arizona Strip beneath a waning moon, Arizona Strip, Arizona, June 11, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

This association is one of 500 similar interpretive associations spread across the country and partners with the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Its primary mission has been to enhance the natural and historical understanding of the Southern Utah region and Arizona Strip, which covers nearly 2 million acres and encompasses around 4,000 miles of unpaved roads.

It has also sponsored the Marilyn Davis Brown Bag Lecture Series, hosted monthly field trips and sold retail items focused on the region.

In a farewell letter, the association expressed their dismay after having started 2020 on an optimistic note excited to embark on a new membership program with a full slate of lectures, field trips and other interpretive activities.

The letter said they were overwhelmed with the response for new and renewing memberships, in which more than 90 people and couples became members in 2020. The letter goes on to say that none of them expected a worldwide pandemic to close the store doors and force the cancelation of lectures and field trips.

Kenneth Sizemore, the executive director of the association, told St. George News that working with the association has afforded him the opportunity to get off paved roads, explore the public lands and learn more about the resources and opportunities that abound in the region.

Creosote waves in the breeze, Arizona Strip, Arizona, June 11, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Unfortunately, the association has continued to struggle in establishing financial independence, Sizemore said. With the COVID-19 closures, their small store had to close, increasing financial hardship.

“It’s almost impossible to continue operations when we don’t have that income from sales,” he said.

At the same time, the BLM, which has provided financial resources through the years, decided they were no longer able to provide funding. Unlike larger interpretive associations that are able to share money back with their partners, the Dixie Arizona Strip Interpretive Association has never been able to generate enough money to do this because they are so small.

Without sales from the store and without funding from the BLM, they have no choice but to close down operations.

In an email to St. George News, Brian Tritle, acting district manager for the BLM Arizona Strip, said the BLM has maintained an assistance agreement with the Dixie Arizona Strip Interpretive Association since 1996. He said the BLM has sincerely appreciated and valued the support the association has given to the agency for more than 20 years providing interpretation and assisting with education and outreach.

However, due to financial constraints, the BLM is unable to fund the final year of their existing five-year agreement with the association. As a result, both parties have agreed to end the agreement nine months early on June 30, he said.

In this file photo shown for illustration purposes, a dirt road meanders through the Arizona Strip, Arizona, Jan. 29, 2012 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

The BLM does not anticipate any disruption of services at the interagency visitor center as staffing needs are being met by a combination of agency employees and BLM volunteers. The BLM will continue to sell vegetation and mineral permits, recreation permits, access passes and maps at the interagency visitor center. The BLM does not sell novelty items such as hats, T-shirts or books.

The BLM is working with their partners to determine the local interpretive needs in the future and how to meet those needs, he said.

Sizemore said the struggle for the association to establish itself came long before the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think the organization would have survived even without the COVID-19. I think the BLM’s decision would have been the same anyway because of our struggles to create a financial base,” he said.

The biggest loss in having to close down operations for Sizemore is the loss in connection with the large group of people who have appreciated the association’s expertise.

Zion Forever Project executive director Lyman Hafen speaks to press about the reopening of Zion National Park, Zion National Park, Utah, May 13, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Lyman Hafen, the executive director of the Zion Forever Project, has been with the association since it was formed. In an email written to St. George News, he said he was saddened by the loss of the association but also expressed gratitude to the board members, volunteers and staff who have shared their time, expertise and even their own personal resources to keep the association viable.

“This leaves a huge void in our community,” he said. “My hope is that as our local public lands managers reassess their needs and vision for a nonprofit partner, something new will evolve that embodies the same spirit of love for and dedication to the history and importance of our surrounding public lands and the need for partnership and cooperation between the federal agencies and the citizens of our community.”

The association will be having a closeout sale in the parking lot of the Interagency Information Center at 345 E. Riverside Drive in St. George Friday and Saturday.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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