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Mon, Dec. 09

New foundation works to preserve Granite Dells

The Daily Courier/file<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->The Granite Dells tower above the trees as the sun sets.

The Daily Courier/file<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->The Granite Dells tower above the trees as the sun sets.

PRESCOTT - Driving through the Granite Dells every day, as many tri-city-area residents do, there is a tendency to take the area for granted, say its advocates.

Beginning this week, they are waging a battle against that inclination.

About 70 Dells boosters turned out Thursday evening for the launch of the Granite Dells Preservation Foundation, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the area that they are calling the "pot of gold" sitting in the center of the region.

With its unique geologic formations, its scenic beauty, and its ecologic importance, the Dells area compares with iconic sites all over the world, according to the Foundation's president, Steve Walker.

"It is a World Heritage-quality site," said Walker, who worked for years in natural resource conservation before serving as executive director of college development at Yavapai College and the YC Foundation.

In the U.S., that elite World Heritage list includes such well-known sites as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and the Statue of Liberty. And worldwide, the list of 911 sites includes locations such as Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Canada's Rocky Mountain Parks, and Switzerland's Alps.

"It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see what the area can become," Walker said of the Dells.

Dan Campbell, another of the Foundation's directors, noted that the granite formations of the Dells are among the first features many people see as they arrive in Prescott on Highway 89.

"One of the things that catches everybody's eyes is the Granite Dells and the lakes," said Campbell. "But we take it for granted."

Foundation board member Jim Lawrence added that the Dells' location make the area a true tri-city feature.

"This is a very real opportunity to recognize that the Dells are not just Prescott, but Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, and the Yavapai Indian Tribe," said Lawrence, who received a plaque from the Foundation, honoring his long commitment to the area's open space.

Previous City of Prescott open space acquisitions have preserved significant parcels in the Granite Dells, Campbell said, but several other "keystone pieces" still remain to be purchased.

That is where the Foundation will come in, Campbell said - to couple the private sector's fundraising with the city's efforts to preserve land in the Dells.

Prior to the Thursday evening launch event, Foundation members spoke at Tuesday's Prescott City Council meeting to introduce the new group, and Walker emphasized the tourism-promotion potential at the Dells.

"We have all of these millions of people that go to the Grand Canyon," he said, "and there's no reason they can't come down here and enjoy a world-class experience."

The Foundation's presentation led to questions about the future of the voter-approved initiative of 2000, which obligated the city to spend as much as $40.7 million on open space acquisition. So far, the city has spent about $16 million, and the sales tax measure ends in 2015.

Beginning with the 2010/2011 fiscal year, the city reduced the amount of money allocated to open space from about $3 million per year to $500,000.

During budget deliberations in May 2010, the City Council agreed to reallocate the $2.9 million then in the open space fund, as well as the $3 million that was scheduled to go into the fund for 2010/2011 fiscal year, and replace it with a half-million-dollar allocation.

That money has remained unspent in the current fiscal year, and council members clarified Tuesday that the $500,000 will not roll over into the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. Rather, the city will again allocate $500,000 for open space.

The 2000 initiative called for a combined open space/streets sales tax, and the city has taken the position that the council has the authority to decide the specific allocations. With the ongoing economic downturn, the council has opted to put more of the total toward street improvements.

Mayor Marlin Kuykendall, who worked with the open space advocates on the formation of the Foundation, called the launch of the organization "a great way to achieve a project that was at the mercy every two years (of mayoral appointments)."

He was referring to the city's Open Space Acquisition Committee, which was disbanded by former Mayor Jack Wilson in the fall of 2009.

"It made sense to have a Foundation and get it out of city politics," Kuykendall said.

Along with Walker, Lawrence, and Campbell, other Foundation directors include: Becky Ruffner, Jason Gisi, Bob Bell, Lora Lopas, Al Snyder, and Walt Anderson.

The initial goals and projects of the Foundation include: a Granite Dells master plan; the Watson/Willow lakes ecosystem IBA (Important Birding Area); the Greenways Trail System and the "Trail to the Top" at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds; the Granite Dells "Lake to Lake" trail; Granite Dells water health; and Peavine Trail planning.

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