Authors Articles byEthan McSweeney

Ethan McSweeney

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Plans for a proposed county park to the west of Maricopa met strong opposition from some residents and curiosity from others at an open house on Tuesday.

Pinal County Open Space and Trails hosted the public open house for the Palo Verde Regional Park to give residents a chance to vote on and submit comments for four plans for the proposed park. Organizers anticipated about 200 people would attend the meeting, which was held at the Maricopa campus of Central Arizona College.

Palo Verde Regional Park would be located west of Maricopa, spanning about 23,000 acres from Interstate 8 to the south to State Route 238 to the north along the western boundary of Pinal County. The park plans to include parts of the Palo Verde Mountains and the Vekol Wash, as well as providing connectivity to planned trails, according to the county’s website for the proposed park. The land for the park is currently controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.

The open house allowed residents to vote on different plans for the park, which vary based on infrastructure, amenities and access, said Gina D’Abella, chair of the Pinal County Open Space and Trails Advisory Committee.

“Tonight is so important because Maricopa will have the opportunity to vote on which alternative they would like to see in the future park,” D’Abella said.

Dozens of opponents to creating the park came out to the event, too, arguing against its future costs and the potential loss of free access to the land. Many held signs that read “We Don’t Want Any Park!” and “632,060 Acres To Be Stolen + Rented Back.”

“It’s a burden to the taxpayers and this is basically a grab to get control of land,” said Joseph Witinski, who has organized opposition to the park.

Witinski launched the Facebook page Citizens Against Palo Verde Regional Park, which has accrued more than 100 likes. He said more than 560 people had signed his petition opposing the park.

At the open house, maps detailing the alternatives were set out for attendees to view, and officials fielded questions about the proposals. Supporters and opponents of the park argued the merits of the park during the open house, too.

The four alternatives offered differ based on the amount of infrastructure the park would have, D’Abella said. These proposals include hiking trails, ATV trails, shooting ranges, campgrounds and space for other types of activities.

The amount of infrastructure increases with each of the alternatives. The first alternative, for example, would preserve the land the way it currently is under BLM management without adding anything, D’Abella said. The fourth alternative would have much more park infrastructure added.

In 2007, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors approved the Open Space and Trails Master Plan, which would create county parks.

The county submitted an application to BLM to acquire the land along the western edges of Pinal County in order to manage a future park there. The selected alternative for the park will go the Board of Supervisors in the next few months for final approval. The Tuesday night meeting was the third open house held for the proposed park.

The park is still years away from possibly opening. D’Abella said BLM historically has taken about five to 10 years to approve that kind of master plan from counties.

If BLM approval is given, then Pinal County would move to secure funding for the park. The amount of funding needed would depend on which alternative is selected to be the official plan for Palo Verde Regional Park, D’Abella said.

Some opponents of the proposal who live near the land for the park say they can already access that land for recreational activities and the park designation means they would need to pay to use it.

“Why do I want to pay for something that I use now for free?” said Jyl Heun, who lives near the site of the proposed park.

D’Abella argued that BLM could sell the land to developers, as it had done in the past with other land in Arizona, and this action would preserve the land as open space.

Heun, who also volunteers for search and rescue in the area, said building the park would require more resources from the county to patrol the area and perform rescues for hikers who may need help in the park.

“Everyone needs to be found, but it’s going to be a huge, huge drain on economic resources,” she said.

Other parks are in the works around the county, too. The Pinal County Board of Supervisors in November approved a plan to work with BLM to acquire land near Florence Junction to create the Peralta Regional Park, which would be about 480 acres.