Monday, October 29, 2007

Real Gold of the Superstitions

October 29, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This column often features stories about lost gold, prospectors, geology, and a variety of associated topics. However, the real gold of the Superstition Wilderness Area is its natural ecosystem.

The region is part of the fragile Upper Sonoran Desert life zone controlled by precipitation, sun angle, slope angle and elevation. The fauna and flora exhibit a wide-range diversity with plants ranging from the magnificent Saguaro cactus to the stately Ponderosa pine.

The fauna represents almost the entire spectrum of biological forms. The survival of animals and plants are dependent on the controls placed on man. Actually man is the most destructive predator placed in any natural ecosystem. The desert is a very fragile and sensitive environment easily disrupted by the activities of humans.

The statement “man should be only a temporary visitor to a wilderness,” is philosophically sound. However, the temporary visitation of man to a wilderness is not realistic if limitations are not placed on the number of visitors or visitations. As Americans, we must determine what portion of our public lands should be preserved in their natural state and what lands should be highly impacted by development.

All development and no preservation causes the crowding of too many people into one place and eventually leads to urban blight.

Arizona’s greatest assets are its public lands (open spaces) and its climate. The two are entwined in minds of visitors and new and old residents alike. Each year more and more of our public lands are slated for development with little or no concern for the future of open space. Some politicians believe open space is not a cost-effective option for public lands.

The National Wilderness Act of 1964 and 1984 preserved several million acres of Arizona’s public lands for future generations of Americans to enjoy. Each year more and more Americans want to have a wilderness experience. These enormous demands have impacted the wilderness areas and state public lands. There is a tremendous need in our state for open space, access to public lands, and green belts within communities, not just golf courses (which are considered ‘open spaces’). Golf courses are not an efficient or effective use of water resources. Families with small children or school children don’t have much use for golf courses. Arizona has a great opportunity to become a special place in America, not just another California or Los Angeles.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is slowly becoming an urban wilderness with little protection for its ecosystem. The wilderness serves as a large hiking and riding park for the Phoenix metropolitan area and surrounding communities that have limited open space. The Tonto National Forest ranger district has taken steps to control the impact on the Superstition Wilderness Area by assessing parking fees and limiting parking space at two of the major trailheads. An estimated 70,000 to 100,000 visitors access the Superstition Wilderness Area each year and, as the Phoenix metropolitan area continues to grow, the impact on the far East Valley and Apache Junction will increase.

Open space is one of America’s most valuable resources and, while its value cannot be measured easily, it is in tremendous demand. Real estate prices along the Tonto National Forest fence line east of Apache Junction should convince anyone how valuable open space is. Lyle Anderson’s Superstition Mountain development should also give you some idea.

There is an old saying, “Our hearts scream open space, however our pocket books scream for profit.”

The real gold of the Sonoran Desert region is in the open space that has survived development, and the Superstition Wilderness Area is one of those real treasures. These lands and their ecosystem are protected from development, but not overuse. This vast wilderness preserves a large tract of public land for future Americans to enjoy. Fifty years from now our descendents will appreciate any effort we make today to preserve open space for the future. They will also recognize the immense value of the Superstition Wilderness Area to our nation and its citizens.

After all, a true wilderness is a place where man is only a temporary visitor and leaves no trace, therefore protecting a fragile ecosystem.