Charles W. Flynn

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Charles Winslow Flynn is executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area in Yuma, Arizona. In this capacity, Flynn oversees environmental restoration, economic revitalization of Yuma’s Colorado River waterfront, and preservation of cultural and natural resources in the Yuma area.[1]

Early career[edit]

After graduation from Stanford University in 1974, Flynn worked for Ed Koch, then a Congressman representing part of New York City. While working for Koch, Flynn was involved in human rights issues, including the end of U.S. foreign aid to the right-wing government of Uruguay.[2] During this time, Flynn worked closely with noted reconstruction expert Robert Gersony. After Koch’s election as Mayor of New York, Flynn followed him to the New York City government.

Conneaut Lake Park[edit]

In 1981 Flynn left New York City government and moved to Northwest Pennsylvania to take over his family’s business, Conneaut Lake Park, an amusement park and local institution on the shores of Conneaut Lake in rural Crawford County.[3] Flynn made strenuous efforts to make the century-old park economically viable, but while the park showed a slight profit in 1985, high interest rates and skyrocketing insurance costs, as well as the park’s diminished position in the market (compared to regional parks such as Cedar Point and Kennywood) made business difficult.[4]

In the 1990s, Flynn sought to make the facility an “entertainment destination” while getting rid of some of the more money-losing rides; in addition, in 1990 he made the controversial decision to fence the park and charge an admission fee for the first time in the park’s history.[4]

After a frustrating 1992 season—in which 13 out of 16 weekends saw significant rainfall – Flynn determined that he had raised the Park’s profitability as high as possible, he made the difficult decision to sell the park.[4] After selling to a group of local businessmen, Flynn stayed on as a part of the management team in 1993, and left to take over the Wheeling National Heritage Area [1] in 1994 (while continuing to reside in Northwest Pennsylvania).

Political involvement[edit]

Flynn entered elected office as a city councilman in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1984, serving until 1994.

In 1990, Flynn sought state office, facing State Representative Bob Robbins in a race to succeed retiring State Senator Roy Wilt (R, 50th District).[5] Despite the district's Republican lean, Flynn hoped to ride the coattails of Democratic Governor Bob Casey, who was popular in the area due to his pro-life, pro-gun stance and economic populism. Despite support from the state's Democratic establishment and high-profile campaign stops by Gov. Casey in the final weeks,[6] Flynn could not overcome the district's conservative slant, and lost the election.

National Heritage Area work[edit]

In 1994, Flynn became the Executive Director of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation. In his first year, he helped spearhead public-private efforts to develop the Wheeling Artisan Center,[7] a renovated industrial building in downtown Wheeling that included a brew-pub, West Virginia-made crafts, and exhibits about Wheeling and West Virginia history.[8] Other major investments in Wheeling that were made or begun during Flynn's tenure include the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center and a riverfront park known as Wheeling Heritage Port that has reconnected downtown Wheeling with the Ohio River. Flynn left Wheeling for Yuma, Arizona in 1999.

Under Flynn's leadership, Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area has engaged in an aggressive environmental rehabilitation of Yuma's East Wetlands area. Before the restoration project, the East Wetlands was clogged with salt cedar and other non-native vegetation. In addition, the area was a haven for illegal activity. Flynn has led an effort to remove the non-native vegetation and replace it with indigenous cottonwood, willow, mesquite and native grasses.[9]

In addition, Flynn is leading an effort to restore an area of the Colorado River along the border between the United States and Mexico.[10] The area, known as Hunter’s Hole, is a haven for human smuggling, the drug trade, and other illegal activity.[11] The plan would involve clearing the deep underbrush and planting native vegetation at regular intervals in order to give the Border Patrol greater visibility. Yuma gathered together the stakeholders in a regional/bi-national conference in 2008, and the concept has generally been embraced by environmentalists, farmers, the law enforcement community, and authorities on the Mexican side of the border.[12]

Flynn has also embarked on an $80-million private riverfront development project. The project, spearheaded by Flynn and San Diego-based developer Craig Clark, includes a 150-room Hilton Garden Inn and 18,000-square-foot (1,700 m2) business conference center as well as commercial and residential development. The conference center opened in November 2008, and the hotel opened in May 2009.[13][14]

In late 2009 and early 2010, Flynn led the effort to save the two Yuma-area state parks when the Arizona state legislature made the decision to shutter the parks. The heritage area agreed to take on day-to-day operation of the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park - what remains of the infamous Old West prison[15] - and the lesser-known Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park on behalf of the city in lieu of the state closing the parks.[16]


  1. ^ Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, accessed May 4, 2009,
  2. ^ John Dinges, The Condor Years, The New Press, 2004
  3. ^ Jim Futrell, Amusement Parks of Pennsylvania, Stackpole Books, 2002, page 87,
  4. ^ a b c The Truth About Conneaut Lake Park, accessed May 4, 2009,
  5. ^ David Michelmore, "Hart Unseats Senator Rigoli," Pittsburgh Post Gazette, November 7, 1990, Google News, Accessed May 4, 2009,,1721160
  6. ^ "Casey Pushes to Tip Senate Control, Philadelphia Inquirer, November 2, 1990, B05
  7. ^ Wheeling Artisan Center History, Accessed May 4, 2009,
  8. ^ Wheeling Artisan Center, Accessed May 4, 2009
  9. ^ Joyce Lobeck, "City gets national recognition for East Wetlands," The Yuma Sun, April 18, 2008, accessed May 4, 2009,
  10. ^ Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, Common Ground Conference, Accessed May 4, 2009,
  11. ^ Sean Holstege, "Could Yuma Area Wetland Secure Border?" The Arizona Republic, December 24, 2007, Accessed May 4, 2009,
  12. ^ Sarah Reynolds, "Yuma hosting binational conference on Colorado River," The Yuma Sun, April 10, 2008, Accessed May 4, 2009,
  13. ^ Hostmark Hospitality Group Press Release, November 6, 2009,
  14. ^ Joyce Lobeck, "Hilton Garden Inn expected to open this week," The Yuma Sun, May 9, 2009, Accessed May 17, 2009,
  15. ^ Chris McDaniel, "Hellhole or country club? Yuma Territorial Prison was both during its heyday," The Yuma Sun, February 8, 2013, Accessed March 18, 2013,
  16. ^ Joyce Lobeck, "Heritage Area to seek longer-term lease of state parks," The Yuma Sun, December 10, 2012, Accessed March 18, 2013,