Scottsdale adds 6,400 acres to preserve
By Peter CorbettThe Republic | azcentral.comWed Nov 21, 2012 10:26 PM
Scottsdale completed a two-decade goal on Wednesday in buying 6,400 acres of state trust land in the far north of the city that will connect the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to the Tonto National Forest.
The city was the lone bidder at $88.2millionfor three parcels east of the Legend Trail golf community that were auctioned by the Arizona State Land Department.
The link of the preserve’s McDowell Mountains and desert terrain to the national forest provides a wildlife corridor and supports the natural cycle of plants propagating across the public lands.
“This is a big damn day because, after 22 years, we’re finally connecting to the forest,” said Carla, her full legal name, one of the initial advocates of the city’s preserve.
Scottsdale’s acquisition increases the size of the preserve by 30 percent, to 27,800 acres, generally stretching northwest from 136th Street and Cactus Road to the Stagecoach Pass road alignment east of Pima Road. The city’s goal has been to protect about 34,000 acres.
“In order to have biologically sustainable open space, you have to have large areas connecting to other larger areas with access to water,” said Carla, former director of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.
The newly acquired preserve land includes Little Granite Mountain and Cholla Mountain. It has limited access from unpaved roads but includes a spider web of trails.
Scottsdale will pay $72.2 million for the trust land, with the remaining $16million coming from the state’s Growing Smarter conservation fund.
Scottsdale Councilman Dennis Robbins, who attended the brief, one-bidder auction, was pleased with the city’s land acquisition at the minimum bid.
“This completes a long-term goal of the citizens to preserve as much of the desert as possible,” he said.
Scottsdale will continue its conservation efforts next year with a goal of buying about 2,400 acres of rugged McDowell Mountain terrain southwest of 136th Street and Bell Road. That could cost $10million to $25million, with about $4million in matching funds possibly available, Robbins said.
Beyond that, the city’s funding capacity is nearly tapped out.
The councilman said that “it might be a hard sell for the citizens” to further tax themselves to buy the more expensive state trust land northeast of Dynamite Boulevard and Pima Road.
Scottsdale voters have supported the conservation effort with two sales-tax measures scheduled to expire in 2025 and 2034, respectively.
The expanded preserve of 27,800 acres, or about 43 square miles, is about a quarter of the city’s land area.
“This week marks a major accomplishment for Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve,” Mayor Jim Lane said. “By leveraging state grant funds over the last four years, we have been able to save the city more than $88million while extending the purchasing power of local sales taxes dedicated to expanding the preserve.”
Scottsdale is developing further access points to the preserve, with the Brown’s Ranch trailhead near Alma School Road and Dynamite Boulevard scheduled to open next summer, said Scott Hamilton, city trails planner.
That will provide some flatter desert trails ideal for mountain biking and equestrians, he said.
Kroy Ekblaw, Scottsdale preserve director, said other trailheads with limited parking and amenities will be added early next year for Fraesfield Mountain and along 136th Street north of the Lone Mountain Road alignment.