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jackiewheeler | Feb 03, 2012 06:00 AM

Now that February has arrived, I’d like to wish everyone a happy and festive Arizona Centennial! But wait – you say you didn’t realize that Arizona became a state one hundred years ago, on February 14th, 1912? Well, I’m not surprised. What with the recession, most of the publicity and celebrations had to be scaled back. President Obama’s recent visit might have provided our governor, Jan Brewer, a convenient opportunity to plug the Centennial, but you saw how that turned out instead.

Arizona FlagStill, there are some things to celebrate and it’s not too late for you join in. I’m not talking about the official events at the state capitol (live music, speeches, that sort of thing) and elsewhere throughout the state, although if you’d like to visit for those please be our guest.

No, amidst the still boiling-hot feuds over immigration, union-busting (Wisconsin’s Scott Walker may not know it, but he has many kindred spirits among Arizona politicos, unfortunately), and yet more tax-cutting, the Grand Canyon State can be proud of a few recent victories on the environmental front.

One is the recent re-opening of Oracle State Park, northeast of Tucson. This little gem, designated as an environmental education center, lacks the cache of state parks closer to trendy, better-known areas such as Sedona, and was the last to re-open after Brewer and the legislature slashed funding for all state parks a few years back. It isn’t that the governor and the legislators had a change of heart, or that the economy has come charging back; as with other parks, local volunteers and benefactors stepped up to the plate and made it happen.

A former ranch, the park is a magnificent slice of foothills desert, with plentiful birds and wildlife, great views, and helpful guides. Ed Abbey lived nearby at one time, and the area served as a haven for tuberculosis patients early in the 20th century. The large copper mine in nearby San Manuel once provided jobs for locals, but shut down in 2007. In my opinion, Oracle Park and its surroundings represent a perfect snapshot of Arizona history and terrain. “Cactus Ed,” Consumption, Copper, Conservation – what better montage could you find for our last hundred years?

Speaking of mining, the other good news is the well-publicized Obama administration ban on new uranium mining claims near the Grand Canyon. The details of the ban have been well-covered in HCN and elsewhere so I won’t rehash them here, except to remind  detractors: It’s the Grand Canyon, for heaven’s sake! For the state’s centennial, at least we can say our most beloved landscape won’t get any new scars. That’s the best birthday present of all.

Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Flag image courtesy Flickr user Jonathan Boeke.

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