By Fay Schlotfeldt
What new problems will the urbanization of property surrounding McDowell Mountain Park bring? We have growth on our northern borders and the state land to our south has been sold and will soon be developed. What issues might the McDowell Park Association face in the future regarding the Park? Our Park will be facing new pressures for its use and some may not be in the best interests of the Park.
With the growth that surrounds our Park, it is easy to understand why various proposals for parkland use, which may not be very compatible for the park, lie in wait for us to deal with.
Since the founding of the MPA, many new members have joined our organization and are not aware of earlier issues. The Messenger Editor, Mike O'Connor has asked me to share some of the earlier problems that our organization faced when it was first formed, and to try to relate some of those problems into a view of the future.
I've agreed to try to do that, knowing there are others in the Association or in the communities who will have some more-detailed, or perhaps different, recollections and forecasts from their involvement in them. I may miss some specific events but will try to give an impression for your evaluation.
Our early Board and Committee members tended to think of the urban pressure issues as "commercialization" of the Park, but it has always been more than that.
What I think the Park and the MPA can look forward to, is the view which will be held by some, that these 22,000 acres are "unused." The view that the acres are just "empty space" that can be better used than "just sitting there as desert."It is these views of what those "better uses" are, that will cause problems with the MPA. Those views probably group themselves in categories. I'll try here to put some form to them and use past "problems to outline and comment on them.
TRADE GOODS INVENTORY
Some have, and will continue to think of the Park's acres as an inventory of "trade goods" for housing or just dollars. Those folks tend to try to find a "good cause" appealing to a fair sized population (larger than park supporters) who have never been around the park and may easily believe that the loss of "a few acres" of "unused" land may serve a larger or more personally valuable purpose.
In this category, as Scottsdale has expanded its high-value properties near the Park's northern borders, several efforts to sever parts of the Park have come about.
Land exchange proposals
1993 - (pre-fire) Park for Peaks and BLM land. A Scottsdale real estate broker and community leader spearheaded a project, supported by the Mayor and others in Scottsdale, to trade off multiple sections of the "vacant" park on the north or southern portions which would be traded for "unbuildable" Kemper-Marley Developer-owned peak lands in the McDowell Mountains. (No sustainable ecosystem, no public access.)
Opponents: Rio Verde, Fountain Hills, and some Scottsdale residents (who joined to become the MPA in 1993) and Maricopa County Parks Commissioners. Eventually the county supervisor also was opposed to this.
1996 - (after fire) Park for Planet Ranch, Trust Land, Saguaro National. Monument. The same Scottsdale broker mentioned before, a new Tucson developer, the new Scottsdale Mayor, the BLM, and new Federal players, plus a new County Supervisor supported this project. New twist: add some Scottsdale mountain land to park.
Opponents: MPA, Rio Verde Community Association, Fountain Hills Town Council, some McDowell-Sonoran Preserve members, some Park Commissioners and Mo and Stewart Udall among others. The proposition was finally withdrawn amid strong opposition. Use of land for housing, rather than recreation, also conflicted with the intent of the original 1950s land use "ownership" agreements (patents) from the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM ).
By-Pass roads through the "vacant" Park land
1988-91 "Beeline access study." A route considered to move traffic from Northern Scottsdale to (ostensibly) the recreational lakes to the Northeast without going south to Shea Blvd. Options included a leg across the Northeast corner of the Park. This route across the area near the Scout/Youth Camp would have been the "Developers Dream." That is to partition "public" land. Make part of it unusable or, from a practical standpoint, inaccessible for a public use and then make the case to sell or trade it off. Other route options crossed the river near the Rio Verde Ranch or nearer Bartlett Dam.
This whole project, strongly supported by developers and land speculators in the Pinnacle Peak-Dynamite area, would have had to bridge the Verde River and partition part of the Tonto National Forest as well. After $2 million, it died of its own consultant-fee costs amid opposition gathered by the Rio Verde Community, it's developer, the Audubon Society, Sierra Club and some of the same individuals from Scottsdale and the Indian Communities who opposed the Orme Dam project. Cave Creek and Carefree leaders and others opposed the optional routes. But the proposed route across the park remained on County Highway project maps for years.
1992 - A group of Rio Verde residents proposed a by-pass road to divert some traffic around the community from the McDowell Park Road, at the power line, north to Rio Verde Drive.
This was opposed by another group of Rio Verde residents and Rio Verde Development and Park management. The County Transportation Department (MCDOT) reviewed the proposal and finally rejected it for several reasons, such as: Not sufficient traffic. There was no one to pay for the Park's land and road construction. Harmful impact to Park's land and use, including partitioning. Harm to adjacent property owners.
2001 - Group of Rio Verde and Tonto Verde residents raised the same proposal with the possibility of a route across the same path as the old â€śBeeline Accessâ€? study, (which seemed reluctant to disappear). The MPA felt this had been rejected twice before, and should be again, rather than stir up hope and antagonisms, by some, that this was even a possible use of park land.
MCDOT finally agreed to do a broader feasibility study, which also included three routes. One route was just east of Rio Verde across National Forest land; the 1992 route parallel to the power line; and the "Scout Camp" route ending at 176th Street.
MCDOT reached the same conclusions as earlier. None of these routes were available options, for essentially the same reasons as the rejection of the 1992 park route proposal. In addition, there was the recognition by the County that the same 1950's parkland purchase conditions, set by the BLM, would apply here. That Federal land program required that the sold land be used for public recreation or a benefit to the park function.
A dividing road through developed campsites, trail systems and picnic areas, which are designed to share the desert experience, would do the opposite of that. Other use can trigger the process of reversion of ownership back to the BLM.
(Similarly, the Forest Service rejected the option of a by-pass through their land on the east, because of the threat to archeological sites and other issues.)
of the "unused" park land
Programs, such as the following, are, again, worthy activities whether on private land or public. These are a sampling of proposed projects the MPA and its members have addressed, sometimes at high intensity public hearings, meetings, and in press releases or letters. I'll briefly list some, and try to address our past issues, in general terms, below.
FIRING RANGE in the area of the current bicycle track.
Proponents: Gun Dealers, Shooters and some Park Staff.
Opponents of placing Range in the Park: MPA, Rio Verde and Fountain Hills officials.
Reason for opposition: It was the same as opposition would be to a sports stadium: The proposal did not fit into the nature of the Park's camping/ picnicking/hiking experience. Then there was the noise. Also, there were available private commercial alternatives and Usery Park locations. The Commission agreed.
COOK-OUT FACILITY (Lost lease in Scottsdale and wanted a park location near Lously Hill).
Proposed to build a "ranch type" building with kitchen where he could continue to offer corporate cookouts. Park might be able to use the area when he wasn't using it, including parking.
Opponents (after much review): MPA and some Parks Commissioners.
Cookout facility could benefit public visitors to the park, if readily available and minimal impact to park environment. This proposal underestimated the auto traffic and parking needed and had limited availability (value) to normal park visitor's experience. Public food service in this atmosphere could be a park benefit, but probably not commercially viable at McDowell Park (vs. Lake Pleasant for example). This was not a "fit". The Commissioners agreed.
SCULPTURE GARDEN Display of an eastern artist's huge metal (I-beam) type sculptures and artist's work. This sought to emulate a display in an eastern state. That is located among trees along a highway. Proposed that the Park provide space for statuary and artist workshop display area. Wealthy donor would have selected the sites. Commercial fees might be involved to visitors.
A retired banker fan of an artist and the Scottsdale Arts community supported "demanded" approval. MPA (Bob Eidsmoe was at the forefront of this effort) opposed the idea. An Arizona Republic editorial opposed the idea too. More on this is included in my general comments to future MPA members, below.
Proposal was withdrawn after public outcry.
PAST AND FUTURE VIEWS
The problem with these "empty space" proposals is that, mostly, they come about from the "top down." Commercial or developer interests tend to take their packaged ideas to city, county, state leaders or directly to the County Supervisors. In the end, these become political decisions.
Supervisors and Park Commissioners really have to be open to consider these proposals if brought before them in good faith. They usually end up with the right decisions, but if the public does not keep aware and present their views, it is possible for these things to become a "done deal" before strong opposing views can be mounted. Unfortunately, many times this comes down to the Park's need for "income" in times of limited funding.
My hope would be that as the future unfolds, MPA members would hold a vision that McDowell Mountain Park's focus would be to provide a respectful public with the great experience of the natural high-Sonoran desert. That experience is worth protecting.
That sort of focus would permit support for things like today's limited, but quality, camping, hiking, biking, horseback trails and public educational programs. Members might support limited saddle or hayride programs and a public food service with "trailed-in" or trucked-in horses, but would not support grazing or relocating "commercial" corporate meeting type business facilities.
Members might support some donated, realistic statuary of native animals, such as mountain lions, bobcat families, javalina or deer at surprise locations along a small, educational-experience trail. But I would hope members would continue to oppose huge, I-beam contemporary statuary, projecting above the desert trees and landscape and oppose it strongly, even if a willing donor and the Scottsdale Arts Community supported that artist and his works. (Oppose even while being strongly criticized in the Scottsdale newspapers and in public forums, as was done.) Perhaps MPA members, to retain the desert experience, would oppose any statuary, anywhere in the park.
Urban encroachment can be a mixed blessing for the park. The closer people live to its borders, the more they can see the value of protecting this open desert "feel." However, in the next 50 to 100 years, as "publicly accessible" land like this disappears, they may have a desire to "love it to death" and the focus will shift to limiting usage rather than cram in urban park amenities like ballparks and soccer fields and aquatic centers. Horse trails also can't sustain unlimited horses.
We can hope that future MPA members will be willing to support the good uses and fight the fights needed to protect the "experience" of the park of which the word "peaceful" is a part.
Urban surroundings have now limited the possibility of expanding the park itself. It has not yet eliminated the possibility of the MPA protecting more of the desert environment by strongly supporting the preservation and accessible development of the Fountain Hills and Scottsdale Preserves and the Tonto National Forest. And we should not forget to support the supervisors, commissioners, mayors, staff and organizations that are also dedicated to that protection.
FAY SCHLOTFELDT: Fay had been a leader on the Rio Verde Committee to oppose the extension of Rio Verde Drive across the Verde River to the Beeline highway. He served a term on the Rio Verde Community Assn. Board as Chairman of various committees and sub-committees. He was appointed to serve as Chair of an Ad Hoc Committee to oppose the first "Park Land Swap" proposal in 1993. It was the resultant joint work on that effort, with Jack Fraser (MPA founder) and others of Fountain Hills and Scottsdale that led to the "merger of interests" to form the McDowell Park Association later in 1993. Fay served as Vice-President of that founding Board until retiring after his first term.
Fay and his wife, Jan, moved to Rio Verde in 1986 from Omaha, Nebraska where he retired after an active Marketing and Sales Executive career with Northwestern Bell, US West and A.T. & T. He later retired from his own marketing management consulting business.