Granite Mountain Trails Q&A
Q: Why is the city interested in the land around Granite Mountain?
A: The city’s goal is to acquire this land and add it to the community’s natural open space system, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The city has targeted about 34,000 acres, nearly a third of Scottsdale, for preservation and has already purchased or protected more than 17,000 acres. The community voted twice to institute sales taxes to buy land for the preserve, and the city’s hospitality industry considers access to protected open space a key attraction. Most of the land now owned by the city is concentrated in and around the McDowell Mountains. The remaining land to be acquired for the preserve is state trust land to the north of the McDowells, mostly in the Granite Mountain area. Until the city owns the land, it is taking action, where appropriate, to protect it.
Q: Does the city already own land in Granite Mountain area?
A: Yes. Scottsdale owns more than 4,000 acres of land in this area including Brown’s Ranch and all of the other private properties north and south of Dynamite Road. This land is all part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Q: What types of activities are allowed in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve?
A: The city allows hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and rock climbing. These activities are limited to established and designated trails and areas. Preserve policies approved by the City Council with extensive public input prohibit motor vehicles in the preserve, except for vehicles used for official business – such as fire fighting, emergency response or power line repair.
Q: Have the city and the State Land Department planned for environmental management of this land?
A: The City of Scottsdale and Arizona State Land Department were two of the several parties that signed a memorandum of understanding regarding public use of the Granite Mountain area. The memorandum of understanding recognized that motorized vehicles straying from trails had caused environmental damage and provided that state-sanctioned groups could help patrol the area.
Q: What types of uses have been allowed on state lands in the Granite Mountain area?
A: The State Land Department generally has allowed a wider range of public uses on its lands than Scottsdale allows in its preserve. In the Granite Mountain area, for example, the state has previously allowed off-highway vehicles (OHVs) and commercial jeep tours, with the proper state permits. Currently the State only allows commercial jeep tours, with the proper state permits to operate vehicles in these lands.
Q: What is the status of the memorandum of understanding?
A: The memorandum of understanding was dissolved because it did not provide a clear way to address new air quality rules. In 2007, the Arizona Legislature passed a series of air quality laws designed to help the Valley meet federal regulations for particulate matter – very fine dust particles that can harm human respiratory health. Among a long list of particulate-reduction measures were requirements for Valley cities to restrict the use of motor vehicles on unpaved or unstabilized surfaces, including restrictions on the use of off-highway vehicles on such surfaces. Under the new requirements, Scottsdale passed a local ordinance prohibiting OHVs on unpaved trails. While the city and State Land Department worked through implications of the new air quality requirements, it became clear that the new dust control ordinances would make the MOU unworkable, and an alternative approach was needed.
Q: Will the Arizona State Land Department Special Land Use Permit (SLUP) now being explored by the city accomplish the same or similar goals as the memorandum of understanding?
A: Yes, and the permit could go further in helping protect the natural resources of the land.
First, the permit could allow the city access to the state land to help with trail maintenance and operations. Without the memorandum of understanding, the city currently lacks an overall agreement with the state defining each party’s expectations and responsibilities.
Second, the SLUP could provide an interim arrangement for city stewardship of the trails while Scottsdale continues its program to acquire the property and convert it to preserve status. The permit could allow the city to regulate recreational trail use during a transitional phase until the city is able to complete its preserve acquisition goals and the land is permanently protected. The permit would give the city the ability to manage state-permitted activities in compliance with state and city requirements.
Third, the SLUP could help clarify the responsibility for city staff and volunteers related to recreational activities on the land. Those restrictions would be spelled out in the SLUP and will comply with state, county and city laws. As the holder of the permit, the city would be responsible for enforcement.
Q: Will the city allow OHV use in any part of the area?
A: Based on input received from a joint meeting of the Preserve and Parks/Recreation Commissions in August 2009, the proposed SLUP would allow non-motorized recreational use. Barring OHV use would be in concert with existing restrictions in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Those restrictions are not based on air quality regulations but are designed to prevent environmental damage. A ban in the Granite Mountain area may also help prevent additional environmental damage while Scottsdale proceeds with its efforts to acquire the land for permanent protection.
Q: Will the jeep tours be allowed?
A: Jeep tour operators with existing permits to use this area have contacted the city and asked to be allowed to continue their business. Based on input received from the joint meeting of the Preserve and Parks/Recreation Commissions in August 2009, the proposed SLUP would allow the city to manage currently-permitted jeep tour operators so they could continue to use the area if they meet air-quality laws and take measures to minimize environmental damage. As the SLUP will be for a period of two years, this will allow for a transitional period to give jeep tour operators time to adapt to the change. Many operators already run trips to several other nearby locations where the use of jeep trails is not an issue.
Q: What other activities will be allowed?
A: It’s contemplated that the same activities currently allowed in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve – non-motorized activities such as hiking, mountain bike riding, horseback riding and rock climbing – would be allowed in the Granite Mountain area. Government or utility company vehicles needed for emergencies, repairs or other official activities would be allowed.
Q: If Scottsdale obtains a SLUP, will hikers, mountain bike riders and equestrians still need a permit from the State Land Department to enter the Granite Mountain area?
A: Yes, users will still need Arizona State Land Department recreational permits to enter this area for non-motorized activities. The permits are available at the State Land Department Office, 1616 W. Adams Street in Phoenix. Permit forms are also available on the department’s Web site at http://www.land.state.az.us, and they can be filled out and mailed along with a check. Individual recreational permits are $15 per year and family permits are $20 per year.
Q: Where do hikers, bike riders and equestrians park to access this area?
A: Right now, there are no designated parking areas adjacent to this area. Users either must be dropped off nearby or locate an appropriate nearby location to park. Recreational users are not authorized to park on vacant/unimproved state or city land.
Just as Scottsdale has already developed several access points for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve areas south of Dynamite, the city has plans over time to install several access points in the Granite Mountain area. In February 2011, the City began the design process for the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead. This facility will be located on Alma School Parkway, approximately 1.25 miles north of Dynamite Boulevard. The facility will provide passenger vehicle and equestrian trailer parking, restrooms, and other trailhead support amenities. The trailhead is estimated for completion in the spring of 2013. Additional Access areas will be planned and developed in future years.
Q: How would the city patrol this area to enforce the requirements of the SLUP
A: Scottsdale would use the same techniques it has used in the past in this area and in the existing preserve. The city has a partnership with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. More than 300 trained, volunteer stewards patrol designated areas to encourage users to follow established rules and policies and to be good stewards of the land. Additionally, these individuals work side by side with city staff to mitigate environmental damage and safeguard the area. These efforts would be expanded in the Granite Mountain area. Organized user groups and private citizens who have permits to use the area have helped monitor the area in the past, and the city would work with them to continue to do so in the future. Scottsdale has enjoyed considerable success in preventing damage to lands in the existing preserve and expects the same success in the Granite Mountain area.