Plans to integrate The Nature Conservancy’s 770-acre Hassayampa River Preserve into the Vulture Mountains Recreation Area, a 71,000-acre regional recreation area west and south of the preserve, will soon begin moving forward due to the unanimous vote of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approving an agreement between The Nature Conservancy and Maricopa County’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“This agreement allows the Conservancy to transfer a portion of the Hassayampa River Preserve property to the County,” said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman, District 4. Hickman went on to note “adding the Preserve to the county park system was one of my priorities as Board Chairman, and I will continue to support the Vulture Mountains Recreation Area project in coming years.”
This agreement enables the Conservancy and the County to partner in ownership and management of the Hassayampa River Preserve. The Conservancy plans to retain ownership of most of the preserve, but will transfer approximately 77 acres, including the visitor center, a portion of the river channel, and Palm Lake to the County.
“The Conservancy will place a conservation easement (also called a voluntary conservation agreement) over the property that is transferred in order to ensure that the preserve’s natural values are forever protected and that the Conservancy remains a long-term partner,” said Heather Reading, director of land and water protection for the Conservancy in Arizona.
The agreement outlines objectives between the agencies to achieve management of the lands. The agreement also plans for:
•the development of a master plan;
•the Conservancy to transfer a portion of land to the County for a visitor center;
•the Conservancy to hold a conservation easement over the visitor center property that is transferred to the County, ensuring long-term oversight;
•an outline of responsibilities of each party including management and facilities development by the County; and
•the Board to delegate to the director, or designee, the ability to make administrative decisions under the agreement.
“We had hoped to transition the property over in 2015; however, funding issues put a temporary hold on the project,” said R.J. Cardin, director for Maricopa County’s Parks and Recreation Department.
During this time, the Parks Department continued to move forward on the Vulture Mountains Recreation Area project by:
•Working with the Bureau of Land Management and Maricopa County Department of Transportation to refine the roadway design for the day-use, camping and off-highway vehicle areas in the Vulture Mountains.
•Initiating an environmental assessment required by BLM prior to leasing land for recreation facilities in the Vulture Mountains.
•Developing the Hassayampa River Preserve’s new master plan, trails and business plans in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy.