The Pima County Board of Supervisors ushered in a new era for Colossal Cave Mountain Park (CCMP) on Monday, August 17th with the awarding of a 10 year operating agreement to Ortega Family Enterprises. The agreement has a renewal option of 15 years and 25 years.

Ortega hired Brian Held to serve as operating manager for the CCMP.

“There is a bit of a funny story of how I got to be at colossal cave.” Brian Held said. “My wife used to come here as a kid a lot and saw the posting for the general manager position. She begged me to apply for it. I was hesitant because I was working in Dallas at the time and didn’t think they would be interested in someone so far away. Well, as usual my beautiful wife was right and within a couple days of applying, I had an interview and the train left the station and I was on the way to this beautiful place,” said Held.

Alicia Held’s interest was spurred by her roots in Pima County, where she was reared. She attended the University of Arizona earning her degree in Social Work before marrying Held. Alicia and Brian have a 14 year-old daughter.

The Ortega Family Enterprises, headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has seven generations of retail experience and over 20 years of experience in national parks as a concessioner. They currently operate concession contracts in Acadia National Park, Volcano House in Hawai’i Volcanoes, Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park, Stow Lake Boathouse in Golden Gate Park, Muir Woods National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and White Sands National Monument. They now add CCMP to their list of contracts.

“Ortega National Parks is a great fit for Colossal Cave Mountain Park. I’m excited for how the park will blossom under Ortega’s management,” said Mike Holmes, operations program manager for the county’s department of Economic Development and Tourism. “This company specializes in taking lesser-known or struggling parks and turning them around, adding services, improving features and growing visitation,” Holmes, a Corona de Tucson resident, said.

“From natural history, native history, and modern history, Colossal Cave Park represents a unique collection of assets that describes our past and can help set our future,” said Rob Samuelsen, who has participated in trail building, many Sunday lectures, and at least five Eagle Scout projects at the park. “Vail’s best asset is right in our own backyard — Colossal Cave Mountain Park,” Samuelsen said.

According to a release from the Pima County web site, changes have already begun to happen in the 2,400-acre park. The $5 entry fee has been eliminated, the gift shop at the cave is undergoing renovation and new attractions and tours will be added soon.

New Operations Manager Held is originally from Arkansas having spent the last 15 years in Texas. He has 21 years’ experience in managerial positions in the food and beverage industry, and retail and hospitality industries. The Pima County 2015 Bond Election in November, if passed by the voters, would provide $3,350,000 for the park. In the first year of bond sales $1.7 million is slated for the park.

“The Bond committee found the CCMP continues to be a landmark of great historic significance and natural relevance. This county treasure is frequented and enjoyed by local and worldwide visitors each year,” said Edward Buster a member of the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee representing the greater Vail area. “The boundless potential to maximize revenues rests with making a significant investment in the park infrastructure to sustain and increase the value,” he said.

At a Greater Vail Area Chamber of Commerce Town Hall held on August 31st, Helds’ introduction was greeted with an enthusiastic applause from the 200 residents present. He stated if the bond passes, he would use the money to repave the roads throughout the Park, redo the restrooms and renovate and improve the electrical throughout the cave.

Martie and Joe Maierhauser dedicated their lives serving as operators of the Cave beginning in 1956 until Joe’s death in 2007. Ms. Maierhauser then continued with the contract until the agreement expired in August of 2015

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Anne Gibson