Tough road to the mountains - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Tough road to the mountains

In Oro Valley, some decry lack of trail access to Tortolita Mountains

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Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:04 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Early last Friday morning, a group of Sun City Vistoso residents set out on a hike through Chalk Creek Wash in Oro Valley’s northern reaches.

“This time of year we hike almost every day,” Vistoso Hiking Club member Paul Meier said.

He retired to Oro Valley from New York about 10 years ago.

Like many East Coast transplants, Meier found Oro Valley’s mountain views and promise of outdoor activities the chief selling points.

But to some residents, the near non-stop pace of development in town threatens to render hiking more difficult and leave the mountains increasingly inaccessible.

That’s one of the issues surrounding a proposed general plan amendment in the western extremes of Rancho Vistoso.

Developer Vistoso Partners wants the town to allow for greater housing density in the spacious gated community Stone Canyon.

Town leaders have yet to vote on the request, but some want them to use the opportunity to put an end to some unfinished business.

In 2002, the town acquired an isolated desert parcel south of Stone Canyon, near Oro Valley’s remote northwest side.

The land was intended for a public trailhead, a place where hikers and equestrians could park their cars and trailers and trek into Pima County’s Tortolita Mountain Park.

Only the public can’t access the trailhead — there are no paved roads or parking.

Private property completely surrounds the land that town officials wanted to use as a starting point for trails into the mountain park.

In addition, a wash bisects the trailhead, which limits its usable space.

“This is a prime example of bad decision making,” said Sue Clark, of the Pima Trails Association.

She wants the town and Vistoso to ensure access to the county’s 4,196-acre mountain park.

The town acquired the trailhead property from Vistoso Partners as result of a 2002 general plan amendment for a different portion of Stone Canyon.

After months of negotiations, Vistoso Partners agreed to give the town the land and a trail easement connecting it to Tortolita Mountain Park.

The company also agreed to give the town $50,000 for trail access improvements.

When Vistoso Partners gave the land to the town, it was intended to satisfy some concerns of nearby residents in the county.  

Richard Maes, of Vistoso Partners, said those residents were worried that their own access to the mountains would be blocked by Stone Canyon. 

That’s why he gave the trailhead to the town and later gave Pima County the area now known as Honey Bee Canyon Park.

The company has also provided trail access for hikers and equestrians along the Cañada del Oro Wash and Big Wash, Maes said.

Maes believes the company has met any obligation it had to the town concerning trails.

County officials also want more people to be able  to access the property.

“We’ve solved over a dozen issues like this since the mid 1990s,” Pima County Parks and Recreation Planner Steve Anderson said.

Currently, people can only access the park through Chalk Mine Road, along the Pima and Pinal county line and through Wild Burro Canyon in Marana.

The town would likely have to purchase the private roads that lead to the trailhead to ensure access, Anderson said.

Studies have put the cost for that at $500,000, Anderson added.

County officials came to an agreement with developer Diamond Ventures over trail access near Pima Canyon.

The developer gave the county 2.6 acres of parking and 1,700 feet of trail cutting through residential areas near the Santa Catalina Mountains, Anderson said.

“That’s just part of working with your neighbors,” he said.

No such solution seems possible for the Oro Valley trailhead.

Without access to the private roads through the rural county areas, the only other option is to allow public access through the main gates of Stone Canyon from Rancho Vistoso Boulevard.

Maes doesn’t see that happening.

“That’s not for me to do,” he said.

Stone Canyon residents have already purchased their property and pay to maintain the roads in their neighborhood.

They have no more obligations to open their gates to the public than do residents of any other gated community in Oro Valley, Maes said.

“I’m not against any of this stuff,” Maes said. “I just can’t be the one to take care of 100 percent of this problem.”

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