Sam Jansen never knew what a treasure Arizona's state parks were, or that he'd ever have a reason to be so saddened by them.
Prior to last year, the former Alaska river guide had only been to a handful of the Grand Canyon State's preserves. But when his friend Susan Culp was appointed to the Governor's Sustainable State Parks Task Force in 2009, Jansen, 41, found himself on a quest to visit all 30 Arizona state parks in six months. Along for the ride were his girlfriend, Jocelyn Gibbon, and Culp's husband, Peter.
"Shooting a movie about it wasn't a big, grand plan we had from the very beginning. It was an off-the-cuff thing at first that kind of picked up steam, and we thought, ‘This might actually be a good idea,'" Jansen says of "Postcards from the Parks," the 40-minute documentary film that resulted from the odyssey.
There will be a free screening of the film at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Tempe's MADCAP Theatres.
"I grew up in Flagstaff, so I'd been to Slide Rock and Tonto Natural Bridge, a few places like that. Most of us, really, had only been to a few parks. At the start, we probably imagined a few of them might be kind of second-tier, or probably wouldn't be that great. We just weren't sure what we would find," says Jansen.
What the foursome discovered - and captured with their Sony HD video camera - was a park system both beautiful and beleaguered.
"The first one we went to was Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff, and it was really cool. They all had something cool about them, and we were surprised by how good they all were, how pretty they were," says Jansen.
But they were also surprised to learn, through research and interviews, that the state park system, which has made headlines lately thanks to looming park closures, has been hurting for a long time.
"In the last few years, more money has been taken away from the parks than given to them," says Jansen. "The problem with funding the parks isn't simply the current budget crisis. Their funding has been cut back for about ten years, and the state's leaders haven't been interested in them in a long time."
In March of this year, the Legislature eliminated the Arizona Heritage Fund, a voter-initiated pot dating back to 1990 that used money from state lottery ticket sales to fund parks, wildlife conservation and historic preservation.
In "Postcards from the Parks," the friends try to show both what makes Arizona's parks special and why they're in trouble. They also make the case for keeping parks open, asserting that they contribute more than $260 million per year to the state's economy and provide more than 3,000 jobs.
The movie screening will be followed by a discussion with Vince Murray, a historian and speaker with the Arizona Humanities Council. Viewers will also get the chance to write postcards to state lawmakers, urging them to protect the park system.
"I hope the film makes more people understand the situation a little more deeply than the inadequate soundbite of ‘We can't afford the parks so they need to close.' A lot of effort went into creating these parks, with the idea that they'd be here for Arizona's people to enjoy for generations," says Janse.
"Postcards from the Parks"
What: Valley friends Susan Culp, Peter Culp, Jocelyn Gibbon and Sam Jansen visited each of Arizona's state parks in 2009, capturing the parks' beauty and their desperate financial plight in this documentary that will be followed with a community discussion.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: MADCAP Theatres, 730 S. Mill Ave., Tempe
Information: (480) 634-5192 or www.postcardsfromtheparks.org