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Mon, Oct. 21

Natural repair: CALT reports success in re-vegetation of Thumb Butte 'scar'

The Daily Courier/Nathaniel Kastelic
Central Arizona Land Trust’s sign advises hikers to use caution on a scarred Thumb Butte path that the organization is rehabilitating.

The Daily Courier/Nathaniel Kastelic Central Arizona Land Trust’s sign advises hikers to use caution on a scarred Thumb Butte path that the organization is rehabilitating.

PRESCOTT - Nearly 20 years have passed since a landowner carved the notorious "scar" at the base of Thumb Butte, and a faint blemish still remains today in the greenery that carpets the prominent landmark.

Members of the Central Arizona Land Trust met at the site of the scar this week to gauge the progress in the long-term effort to repair the damage.

Their prognosis: The area is well on its way to recovery, thanks to a conservation easement and a revegetation project on the land.

"The good news is that it's recovering very nicely," said Steven Corey, president of the Central Arizona Land Trust, "and it's in reasonably good health."

Even so, Corey said, "you can tell it's not as dense, and the growth is not as mature" as the surrounding area.

Jeanne Trupiano, a consultant for CALT, agreed. Even though the scar area still features "an area where it looks more open," she said, "It's looking pretty good."

The scar dates back to 1989, when a property owner bulldozed a lot in a highly visible area at the base of Thumb Butte in preparation for building a home there.

Becky Ruffner, a past president of CALT and the current secretary of the organization, recalls that the work set off an immediate uproar in the community.

"Many people saw the work, and there was an outcry from the town," said Ruffner, noting that residents had assumed that the area was U.S. Forest Service land.

When it became apparent that the land was indeed privately owned, and that it was on the brink of development, the City of Prescott and members of the fledgling preservation group - with the help of the Trust for Public Land - got together in an effort to buy and protect the property.

"The landowner was contacted and agreed to wait," Ruffner said. Ultimately, the effort resulted in the purchase of five lots at the base of Thumb Butte.

A CALT fundraising effort came up with more than $200,000, which the city matched - for a total of more than $400,000. After the city bought the land, CALT placed a conservation easement on it to preserve it in perpetuity, and the re-vegetation began.

Through the years, the city and CALT worked together to plant piñon pines and a variety of other native plants on the property.

Initially, the effort required a drip irrigation system to get the plants established. Later, the city removed the irrigation, and the plants now are surviving with just the water available naturally.

"The city clearly did a good job," Corey said. "From our standpoint, we're very pleased."

CALT's regular visits to the scar site are part of an on-going monitoring of the progress in the re-vegetation, Corey said, as well an effort to watch for any "malicious" activity that might be damaging the land.

A common climbing area, the scar land has a casual trail through it, Corey said, but it has not attracted any damaging activities.

While the "Save the Butte" effort served to preserve a prominent area, Ruffner said it went even further by triggering the birth of Prescott's open space preservation movement.

"That was really our first community effort to save open space," Ruffner said. "And that was the first time the city and CALT were able to partner."

About a decade later, pending development on another Thumb Butte-area property - the hill east of the butte - drove the city's 2000 open space initiative, which earmarked $40.7 million in sales tax revenue for the acquisition of open space.

Ruffner said the scar project is an example of how a conservation easement can ensure the permanent preservation of open space. "Just having the zoning and being owned by a government is not enough," she said. "A conservation easement is permanent."

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