PIMA COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 4 was a busy day for approvals, as a conservation area near Ajo and certification for Anza Trail were approved unanimously.
First, the Ajo conservation easement preserves approximately 545 acres just west of Ajo in far western Pima County.
According to a Pima County news release the area is made up of 11 privately owned parcels featuring a variety of cactus, including saguaros, and organ pipe. The area is known as Alley Valley and is separated from Ajo by the Camelback Mountain and surrounded by Bureau of Land Management land. A dirt road, called Alley Road is maintained by the county and passes through the valley as part of the Ajo Scenic Loop, a 10-mile circuit that includes spectacular views of the Sonoran Desert landscape.
“The property owners had been working for several years to find the best way to conserve Alley Valley and they approached us about it,” District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson said in a news release. “After discussions with experts from Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation and the Office of Sustainability and Conservation, it was determined that the donation of conservation easements would be the best way to preserve this important natural area.”
Property owners retain ownership of the land, even though they have donated the easements, they are legally restricted from most development activities.
The public will not be permitted to access the parcels but would reap benefits from being able to enjoy views of the landscape and wildlife which include desert bighorn sheep and endangered Sonoran pronghorn. Unlike acquiring the land, the only cost to the County will be checking up on the properties once in a while to ensure they remain in compliance with the agreement.
Since 2008, Pima County has accepted donations of land or conservation easements from 34 owners, totaling 3,575 acres and valued at over $15 million. Most of these donations expanded existing parks and conservation areas. Some donors are private individuals; others are development companies who voluntarily offset future development impacts. Depending on the situation, donations of land or conservation easements to Pima County or another qualified conservation organization can result in tax benefits to the donor.
In a second approval, Anza Trail received certification that the portion of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail that runs through the county meets Park Service standards.
Anza Trail was established by an Act of the U.S. Congress in 1992, traces the route that was taken by Spanish colonial settlers that were led by Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza in 1775-76 as they traveled from Sonora, Mexico to San Francisco Bay.
“Certification by the National Park Service shows Pima County’s portion of the Anza Trail meets national standards by authentically following the 1775 Expedition’s route and campsites,” Sustainability and Conservation Director Linda Mayro said, in a recent news release. “It will help promote not only this amazing public resource in particular, but all of the outdoor opportunities Pima County has to offer to both residents and visitors.”
The Trail through Pima County stretches almost 70 miles, with nearly 50 miles available for non-motorized users such as hikers, bicyclists and equestrians. It largely follows the course of the Santa Cruz River from Tubac to Marana, passing historic sites such as Canoa Ranch, Mission San Xavier del Bac and Presidio San Agustín.
Development of the Trail in Pima County began in 1997 after voters approved a Cultural Resource and Historic Preservation Bond and was further funded as part of the 2004 bond package - a total of $4.5 million. The Board of Supervisors approved the County’s Master Plan for the Trail in 2002. It now features amenities including trailheads, parking areas, ramadas and interpretive signage, as well as bridges, gates and protective fencing.
Certification also makes the County better positioned for future grants for the Anza Trail from the Park Service and other federal and state agencies.
The Trail is located either on Pima County property or easements donated by private landowners. Pima County remains responsible for upkeep and maintenance of the trail and trailheads with the exception of areas maintained by various municipalities. Future segments may be added to the route depending on available funding.