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Tue, Oct. 22

Talk of the Town: We can't miss chance to save the Dells

In the last couple of months, several things have happened in the effort to protect the heart of the Granite Dells, the gem of Prescott. Readers will remember that last year there was a lot of newspaper coverage about an opportunity to protect the old Granite Dells Resort with its historic dance hall and swimming pool. Since then the landowner has offered to donate and sell parts of the property for $1.3 million below its appraised value. In addition, a coalition of well-known community groups has agreed to commit $1.5 million of private money and land to the effort, as well as to open a visitor center and trailhead at no expense to the city. A Granite Dells Visitor Center would be a public partnership of the best kind.

In the meantime, there have been other important new developments that underscore the urgency and the opportunity for protecting the Dells now while we still can. First, it was recently announced that the 15,000 acres that abut the Dells on the northeast have sold to a development group. As planned, there will be homes along the newly built roads from the Phippen Museum to Glassford Hill. This pretty much completes the circle of development around the Dells, connecting Prescott, the Yavapai Reservation and Prescott Valley. The Granite Dells are now surrounded, and developments are even beginning to be built within them. If we are ever to create a regional park serving all of our communities, this is the time to act.

In addition, back in May it was announced that Prescott paid off the 15-year bond that bought Watson and Willow Lakes. This event not only frees Prescott of some of its obligations, but also creates the bookends for a truly national-quality natural park. We can thank a previous council for its foresight. They had a vision, stuck with it, and we now own both lakes and all of the scenic land around them. The lakes have been a boon for Prescott, providing wonderful recreation opportunities and an economic golden goose. We can also thank the members of the public who passed the Open Space Fund overwhelmingly in 2000 and has been paying into it ever since. It was recently noted that city sales taxes have experienced "good solid growth" of 5.3 percent and, interestingly, more than half of the revenue was collected from residents outside the city.

But the purchase of the old Granite Dells Resort, the keystone needed to connect the lakes and Dells, has yet to occur. There appears to have been little action in a year. Notwithstanding the 1 percent sales tax that will continue to accrue until then end of 2015, the fate of the Dells is still hanging in limbo. This in spite of the fact that a coalition of well-experienced community groups has pledged to manage the property, open a visitor center and assume the costs at private expense. With only a short time left to use the Open Space Fund, it's either now or never. We have an opportunity to save the Dells that will never be repeated - there is a willing seller, prices will never be lower, there is a pledge of $1.5 million of private funds, and the city has a dedicated, voter-approved source of funds.

If there is a will to protect the Dells, there is also a way. When the Council meets in a workshop setting Tuesday at 1 p.m., it could choose to defer a single street project for a year and preserve the heart of the Granite Dells forever.

And in terms of finances, it's a well-recognized fact that parks, open space and outdoor recreation projects are good business.

The Arizona Office of Tourism recently estimated that tourists spent $677 million in Yavapai County in 2011, generating $15.9 million in local taxes and supporting 8,240 jobs. Tourism accounts for 10 percent of our regional economy.

For these reasons, the Prescott Chamber of Commerce supports this project. The outdoor experience is one of Prescott's competitive advantages.

The Granite Dells are, as a Courier editorial said, "unique to Prescott and deserve to be preserved, which is what the tax, that in part supports open space, was designed for."

This City Council has a unique opportunity to end the Open Space Fund on a high note, protecting the legacy of the Granite Dells the way a previous council did when safeguarding Watson and Willow Lakes. It would provide an unparalleled gift to our children and grandchildren and add to Prescott's stature.

Dan Campbell is a member of the Granite Dells Preservation Foundation and retired from a 30-year career with The Nature Conservancy.

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