Stand in Fountain Hills and look at the McDowell Mountains. Great scenery, but it’s too bad you can’t get there from here.
Access, and the lack thereof, to the McDowell Mountain Preserve has long been a sticking point in the town.
That’s why the Town Council is holding a study session tonight in the hope of figuring out a way for outdoors-lovers
to walk about the desert foothills.
When the town acquired the preserve’s 740 acres, in increments, at the beginning of the decade, access seemed to be no problem. Civic officials were relying on the private sector’s largesse, as people would reach the trailhead through land owned by a developer.
But MCO Custom Properties has yet to build homes on the proposed access point of Adero Canyon. And there’s no telling when MCO will.
“So, to access the preserve, you literally would have to trespass their land,” said Roy Kinsey, chairman of the Sonoran Conservancy of Fountain Hills.
Currently, MCO and the conservancy have a deal in which the developer allows infrequent access to groups led by trail guides.
That’s not what the town thought it would be getting for its $13 million-plus.
Tonight’s meeting promises a gathering of all the preserve’s major players, from MCO to Maricopa County’s neighboring McDowell Mountain Regional Park to Kinsey’s group. What they’ll see are four options, put together by town staff members.
Two alternatives are cut from the same cloth: an access point on the preserve’s northern boundary, using the county park’s Golden Eagle Trail. One would use a pedestrian easement through MCO’s Eagles Nest gated community, behind properties; the other would create a trail on county land leading to the preserve.
But neither MCO nor the county seem eager to embrace those proposals.
In a letter to the town, MCO president Jeremy Hall said the properties have been sold and are no longer MCO’s to grant. Even more, MCO did not plan for any public rights of way, other than the county’s trailhead, which means landowners could sue the developer.
Meanwhile, the county said the Golden Eagle trailhead — closed 33 of the past 37 months — no longer is considered a permanent access point to the park.
The third option would be for the city to simply carry out the plans to build a 1.53-mile trail in Adero Canyon, regardless of whether MCO is ready. Town officials estimated the cost to be $20,000.
However, Kinsey views this proposal as “grabbing the bull by the horns” and an invitation to be sued by MCO.
Kinsey himself presented the fourth alternative. He said at the end of Mayan Road, there is a dirt road leading to a Chaparral City Water Company tank. From there, Kinsey proposed, a trail could be built to the preserve.
The town estimates that building a 0.83-mile trail would cost up to $22,800, plus the money needed for a parking area. But Kinsey said the conservancy is willing to build the trail, with the town needing only to take care of parking.
Also during the study session, the council will discuss possibly consolidating four commissions — Parks and Recreation, McDowell Mountain Preservation, Senior Services and Community Center — that advise the town’s Parks and Recreation Department.