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Thu, Dec. 05

Column: Opportunity knocks for Prescott tourism

Sometimes the worst of times are the best of times. Here we are in 2012, with a lousy economy, greeting one of the best opportunities we may ever see.

Many of you will remember happy days swimming, picnicking or dancing in the old Granite Dells Resort. Smack dab in the middle of the Dells, with Granite Creek running through it, it is one of Prescott's gems. And we could own it - at a price that has been steeply reduced to reflect today's realities.

The Granite Dells Resort was a beacon of Prescott's heyday. It attracted the rich and famous and working families alike. Anyone who could cadge a ride out to the Dells could swim and dance and dive to their heart's content. Even the iconic Barry Goldwater said that it should be preserved as a park. Well, we just might have that opportunity!

Though the property isn't on the market, the owner recently informed the Prescott City Council that he would sell it if they preserved it as a natural area park.

Nestled between Watson Lake and Willow Lake, this 83-acre property is right at the center of the long-anticipated Lake-to-Lake Trail, the completion of which would represent the crowning achievement of Prescott's new trail system.

The old Granite Dells Resort could provide the ideal visitor center, museum, trailhead, parking area and hub for a whole network of trails and shady picnic sites along Granite Creek and throughout the Dells on lands the city already owns. In fact, it could connect everything between the lakes, Watson Woods, the Peavine, Glassford Hill, Prescott, Prescott Valley and out to Chino Valley in one central regional park.

This is the sort of futuristic planning that has made other cities great and helped diversify their economies. For this reason, the property has been ranked as the number one priority for five years by the city Open Space Acquisition Committee and the new Granite Dells Preservation Foundation.

Can we afford it? The real question is can we afford not to buy it and lose the heart of the Dells to poorly planned development?

Actually, there is a way. In 2000, Prescott citizens gave a clear indication of their intentions when they soundly passed an initiative for a one-cent sales tax upon themselves to acquire natural area parks and open space until 2015. The acquisition funds were capped at $40.7 million, but only about $17 million has been spent. The economy required an adjustment in 2010 and $2.9 million funds allocated to open space acquisition were not forwarded to the next year, and nothing ever since.

The economy is not as bleak now, and believe it or not, sales tax revenues have been quietly rising. It's time to start thinking about our future again.

And who would manage it? We have an army of volunteers in Prescott who would rally to help Prescott City Parks launch such an effort. A virtual rainbow of community groups has already offered to help. The upcoming Prescott Great Outdoors extravaganza is an indication of this upwelling of support. Prescott is, after all, an outdoor town. We love our mountains, our lakes and our Dells. We think others will too, and like investments in the Elks Opera House and activities on the courthouse plaza, an investment in the Dells would pay long-term dividends.

This is an opportunity that, if lost, generations of Yavapai County citizens will regret for years to come. Hopefully the voters won't have to remind the City Council of this.

After 28 years with The Nature Conservancy, Dan Campbell recently retired as the Verde River director. He acquired Kartchner Caverns near Benson, the Hassayampa River Preserve near Wickenburg and the Homestead at Hart Prairie near Flagstaff. All have proven to be an economic engine for their communities.

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