An open house on a proposed 23,000-acre park west of Maricopa is planned for March 31 at Copper Sky.

At 23,000 acres, a proposed regional park west of Maricopa is a massive undertaking for Pinal County.

In planning stages since 2007, the park on land belonging to the Bureau of Land Management would cover a vertical swath from State Route 238 to Interstate 8. Planners are working to meet the needs of a variety of outdoors enthusiasts.

“It is a huge, ambitious project,” said Gina D’Abella, chairperson of the Pinal County Open Space & Trails Advisory Commission.

The next public meeting on the Palo Verde Regional Park is an open house planned for Dec. 10 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Hidden Valley Yard of the county’s Public Works Department.
“For years, we’ve been meeting on this,” D’Abella said. She became involved and even started her Environmental Concerns Organization, Inc. because of the abuse of her own property along the Vekol Wash by people leaving trash and shotgun shells.

One of the biggest hurdles for creating a park was getting recognized by BLM, which was impossible without being a stakeholder. That was resolved with the formation of the Open Space & Trails Department with a staff of one, Director Kent Taylor, in 2013.

“The more people we get to come listen to what is proposed and where we’re at in the process the better,” Taylor said. “Be involved early.”
Groups, organizations and government departments have been involved in the meetings and discussion up to this point. The advisory commission is comprised of 10 volunteers, and others have participated in field trips and focus groups.

One of those field trips was Nov. 14. Maricopa Planning & Zoning Commissioner Bob Marsh was along for the tour.

“It’s a beautiful set of four mountain ranges, hills really,” said Marsh, who used to lead hikes into the Grand Canyon. “There is road access on both sides, east and west, all the way down, and a couple of passes where a road can get through.”

The trip had him envisioning the possibilities of creating trails to each peak with trailheads and bathrooms. “We could have contests, who can reach all seven peaks in a day,” he said.

Marsh said the development of such a large park could be “prioritized piecemeal,” starting with ongoing uses. He said there areas prime for off-roading and other sports.

“As the population of Maricopa grows, features can be added to the park, rather than rushing in to build something fancy now,” he said. “It should be kept wild as long as possible.”

“Pinal County is living up to its motto ‘wide open opportunity,’” District 4 Supervisor Anthony Smith said.  “I would invite everyone interested to come to our open house and offer their input on this proposed Palo Verde Regional Park.  This would be a great asset for both residents and visitors alike. ”

D’Abella said they looked for other regional parks as models of what would work in the vast space.

“This is not soccer fields and playgrounds,” she said. Potential recreational uses may or may not include activities already being conducted on the land like a shooting range and off-highway vehicle area.

Taylor said this is the information-gathering stage. Open Space & Trails is seeking not only feedback and opinions from the public but also on-the-ground information about the landscape, trails and roads that may not be marked on official maps.

“Our consultant has been doing a lot of data research on public land uses, the BLM guidelines, the BLM uses, [Arizona] Game & Fish [Department] designations, soil types and view sheds and all the underlying data that we’ll use to determine what makes sense for this area, and where,” Taylor said.

Pinal County hired a professional planner, EPG Consulting. Once feedback from the public and an array of government entities is gathered, a master plan will be created to bring before the Board of Supervisors. D’Abella said that may happen in the next year.

When the supervisors approve a master plan, it will be sent to BLM.

“Then it’s a whole ‘nother process happening,” D’Abella said. “It usually takes three or four years for approval.”

When that BLM approval is gained, Pinal County will have 25 years to prove it can manage the property. D’Abella compared it to the process followed by the South Mountain Park in Maricopa County. She said Pinal County may opt not to manage the entire 23,000 acres but only a smaller piece, like 1,000 acres.

The December open house is the first step toward that.

“Getting the public there would be fantastic,” Taylor said.

The proposed Palo Verde Regional Park is outlined in purple dashes primarily around the yellow BLM land on the left side of the map.
The proposed Palo Verde Regional Park is outlined in purple dashes primarily around the yellow BLM land on the left side of the map.

This story appeared in the December issue of InMaricopa News.