Monday, December 30, 2002

Saving Our Open Space Heritage

December 30, 2002 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is a unique natural resource adjacent to a large metropolitan area. The future management of this wonderful natural resource will be based on access. It is now an overused and crowded geographic region that has little resemblance to a true wilderness.

Immediately west of the Superstition Wilderness Area lives almost four million people with enormous recreational needs. When wilderness founding fathers established the Superstition Wilderness Area in 1930 they were not anticipating the rapid growth of the Salt River Valley. The cities, counties and the state did not plan for such growth by constructing more parks, hiking trails, and setting aside recreational outdoor areas. South Mountain Park in the City of Phoenix is the largest park in the United States. Still, this wasn’t enough for the rapid growth of the Salt River Valley.

Urban recreation participants have a wide range of recreational activities they enjoy. These activities include four wheelers, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, horseback riding, hiking, mountain climbing just to name a few. The wilderness was never meant to serve the varied recreational needs of a large metropolitan area.

A wilderness is a special place, where time stands still and man is only an occasional visitor. Where man should leave only his footprints. A place where the mute testimony of ancient ruins are chanting the history of cultures that existed here a millennium ago. Wilderness is a place where we can find solitude away from the urban landscape; a place where nature is in control and the sounds of our modern society [are] left far behind. The only way such a place can exist in the future is if man maintains it with the strictest rules and regulations.

The natural resources of America have been just about totally exploited except for a few rare exceptions. Most of these exceptions are located in the American West. Yes, these places are worth preserving for future generations to enjoy. Many of us look back and thank men like Leopold, Muir and Pinchot for their futuristic views on conservation and preservation. If it had not been for men like these most of the natural resources would be gone. Theodore Roosevelt was a man of conviction when it came to preserving special places in America.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is a special place for all of us. Its preservation has survived the urban development of the Salt River Valley. The need to preserve and conserve places is well known by Americans, but the profit motive and greed have absorbed some of the most isolated and spectacular pieces of American real estate that should have been preserved. We know the best-valued pieces of real estate today are those located near open space with all the amenities of a modern subdivision. If for [a] moment you don’t think real estate adjacent to open space is valuable, check out the prices of low-density real estates near the base of Superstition Mountain.

Our attempt to prepare for all this growth has not taken in the importance of open space. Yes, some developers and planners sincerely believe golf courses constitute good open space planning. But, for the average American to enjoy a golf course it cost[s] a considerable fee. Golf courses are of little value except to a small segment of our population who can afford to pay and play on these designated open space areas for humans.

Golf courses should not be considered part of open space in a development. A wildlife sanctuary or botanical preserve would mean more to our grandchildren. Access routes, trail systems, mountains, swamps, arroyos, canyons and desert all should be what we call open space. Open space is rapidly disappearing in Arizona and, once it is gone, it is gone forever.

Some day in the future we will wake up and find ourselves with no open space and we no longer can afford the cost of water in this arid desert environment. Yes, someday we will all be judged for our decisions today.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is open space, but not the kind of open space that can be fully utilized by our society. The wilderness is preserving the natural setting for future generations to enjoy. This natural setting cannot be preserved if too many people visit it in a  given period of time. Last year almost 70,000 people visited the Superstition Wilderness Area, and it is true that only ten percent of them hiked more than two miles beyond the trailheads.

The wilderness area was once a wonderful asset of Apache Junction, but it is now an asset of the entire Salt River Valley with enormous future management problems. The Tonto Ranger District and the wilderness rangers have a tremendous job controlling this large primitive area. Future control will require access permits in addition to the trailhead parking fees. If we are to save this spectacular natural wonder east of Apache Junction it is going to require a lot of sacrifice in the way we use this region.

There should be a message going out from the populace of Arizona asking our state legislators to consider preserving some of these existing beautiful vistas across the Sonoran Desert and to strongly support our state parks system. This will be our legacy for our grandchildren. 

Don’t we want to make the right decision?

Monday, December 16, 2002

Monday, December 2, 2002