A wish list<BR>Open space plan offers variety
PRESCOTT – The glossy green leaves of the lofty trees along the creek set off the salmon-colored walls of the Granite Dells canyon to perfection.
The spot, just north of the Watson Lake dam, is undeniably beautiful. In fact, the woman who has owned the land for almost 15 years, maintains that the land is so lovely that she always felt a little uneasy about owning it.
"I always felt the land should not be privately owned by anybody, including me," said owner Lynne Ericksson. "It is so sweet that I thought it should be preserved."
Ericksson's land, which runs along both sides of Granite Creek as it flows from the Watson Lake dam, is among the parcels that the city will try to buy for preservation if voters approve the 10-year extension of the 1-percent sales tax on May 16.
Earlier this year, the community identified 11 categories of open space that it would like to preserve through the sales tax initiative. As much as $40.7 million of the total revenue from the sales tax extension would go for buying open space.
Ericksson's 25-acre parcel on the east side of Highway 89 is being grouped with about 170 acres of Granite Dells land on the other side of the highway, for the "Granite Dells preserve" category.
The land west of the highway has nearly 20 different owners, and includes the area that was once the Garden of the Gods resort.
The variety of land on the list offers a glimpse into the heights and depths of Prescott's terrain.
Other categories include: the Prescott Buttes land on the hill next to Thumb Butte; Glassford Hill; Badger "P" Mountain; the greenways, a variety of scenic spots along Prescott's creeks; the Watson Lake Wildlife Corridor; and the mesa east of Watson Woods.
Among the most prominent – both in terms of visibility, and the attention it has received in the community – is the land that makes up the hill next to Thumb Butte.
Throughout much of 1998 and 1999, the land was in the community spotlight – first, while the owner worked to get city approval for his Prescott Buttes subdivision plans, and later, while the community tried to prevent the project by raising money to buy a portion of the parcel for preservation.
By the end of 1999, it was apparent that the community fund-raising effort would fall far short of the $286,000 it needed to pay its share of the land costs.
By then, talk of a possible sales tax extension began to replace talk of the fund-raiser.
The hill, which blends into the view of Thumb Butte for many residents, consists of a steep slope covered with trees and large rock out-croppings.
The Prescott Buttes plan involved putting 38 homes on about 24 acres. From the start, residents opposed the plans and eventually convinced the Prescott City Council to commit to paying half of the cost of buying about 11 acres of the land, while the community would try to raise the other half.
One of the problems with the fund-raiser was the fact that the effort would preserve only the top half of the 24 acres of the Prescott Buttes land – the portion that the City Council deemed most visible to the community.
So, developers still could build on the bottom portion of the hill. And the very top of the hill was never a part of the purchase plans either. Other owners hold parcels at the very top.
It is still uncertain exactly which part of the hill the sales tax extension will target, and how much money is involved. Eric Smith, trails and open space coordinator for the city, said negotiations likely will have to go back to the "drawing board" if voters approve the sales tax extension.
"We need to talk about the whole hill," Smith said.
Eve and Rob Gill, whose home is near the Prescott Buttes land, have been active in preserving the Thumb Butte land from the start. They spearheaded the earlier fundraiser, and Eve now chairs the Political Action Committee that is advocating the sales tax extension.
The Gills are unabashedly enthusiastic about the sales tax extension proposal. "I don't see a down-side to this at all," Eve Gill said. "I'm proud of being involved in this. As far as I'm concerned, they can write it on my tombstone."
Less visible, but certainly no less important to creek preservation advocates, is the open space category that involves Prescott's "greenways."
Soon after the Prescott City Council announced in December that it would be accepting nominations for areas for possible acquisition and preservation, creek advocates organized to try to get the creek-sides on the city's list.
The greenways category is a loosely related series of creek land that would allow for trails to link portions of Miller and Granite creek.
One of the parcels that the city is targeting is an eight-acre piece along about a half-mile of Granite Creek off Sixth Street and Henry Street near the KYCA radio station.
Two legs of the creek meet on the land just southwest of the border of the reservation and form a triangle of lush riparian forest. Clear creek water gushes over the remains of an old rock wall that once formed a small dam on the creek.
Smith said the land would tie in with the city's land at Granite Creek Park.
The city's list of open spaces also includes the Watson Lake Wildlife Corridor and open space, which involves private and state land east of Highway 89
Open space advocate Elisabeth Ruffner pointed out that the corridor would tie the two major preserves of Glassford Hill and Badger "P" Mountain together, and would provide a way for the many wild animals who live in the area to roam between the two.
In addition, some of the wildlife corridor area provides the backdrop of Watson Lake from Highway 89.
Along with the state land parcels of Glassford Hill and Badger "P" Mountain, the city's open space list also includes a number of other promontories – the mesa east of Watson Woods, the State Trust land hill south of Highway 69, Indian Hill off Williamson Valley Road near Pioneer Park, and the west side of Palmer Hill south of downtown Prescott.
City officials emphasize they are not considering all of the parcels for outright purchase. For some, the city plans to preserve through planning and zoning tools and other methods such as conservation easements.
For open space advocates such as the Gills and Ruffner, time is of the essence for the city accomplish its goals for preservation. They say development is threatening some of the areas, such as Prescott Buttes and Granite Dells, while other areas, such as the state land parcels, are in limbo until the city can come up with money for acquisition.
"It is the duty of the city of Prescott to see that it happens, or it's going to be too late very soon," Ruffner said. Of the opponents who say the community has plenty of time to plan better for the open space purchases areas, Ruffner says, "That opinion is based on ignorance."
Mayor Sam Steiger also stressed the importance of getting the open space preservation started as soon as possible. "To delay this any more would be frivolous," Steiger said. He maintains that if the community had moved on preserving its hilltops 10 years ago, Prescott would be a better, more attractive community now.