Bringing the Scottsdale Preserve vision to life: the facts

Scottsdale should be mighty proud of what it has accomplished in preserving our vast Sonoran Desert landscape, an unspoiled ecosystem of rugged beauty, quiet solitude and plentiful wildlife that’s unique to any major city in the United States.

Carolyn Allen

Carolyn Allen

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve protects nearly one-third of this geographically sprawling city as open space. It’s without a doubt what makes us uniquely Scottsdale.

Residents have recognized this, voting five times to pay for the open spaces that have drawn so many tourists, residents and businesses to the city. Scottsdale residents have a long and proud history of thinking big.

Now we have an opportunity to bring to fruition Scottsdale’s ultimate vision for the Preserve: the Desert Discovery Center.

Critics will have you believe this is an idea that has been shrouded in secrecy, and whose size, scope and cost have already been decided. Their willingness to rewrite history and inject misinformation at every turn is disappointing at best — and quite alarming at worst.

Scottsdale deserves better — it deserves an honest, intellectual debate about the details of this proposed educational, research and interpretive center that has been described in city studies, city council reports and public meetings for the past 30 years. It has long been identified to be located at the Gateway Trailhead in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Those are the facts, and facts can be stubborn things.

But let’s be clear: the size, architectural design, cost and funding have yet to be decided. The next important step in this process is approving an architectural contract on June 7. It’s important to move forward with this next step so we can truly plan this project. I suspect, after knowing and serving the good people of Scottsdale for many years, that it will be supported by our community.

Though I am not a hiker, I have always realized the immense value the Preserve brings to Scottsdale. As a former state lawmaker who had the honor of representing Scottsdale, I am proud to have played a role in helping then-Gov. Fife Symington pass the Arizona Preserve Initiative, which enabled communities like Scottsdale to preserve vast tracts of environmentally sensitive State Trust Land. In fact, Scottsdale received over $80 million of those very funds to acquire land for the Preserve.

From its geography to its people, Scottsdale is diverse. That’s what makes us great. And like me, some are unable or unwilling to explore the remote swaths of our boulder- and cactus-studded land – children, the elderly, the disabled — should also have the ability to be immersed in the “Preserve experience.” They, too, have paid their taxes and have a right to access and know the Preserve just as others do. Likewise, those regular users of the Preserve will benefit from the DDC – knowledge enriches the experience as well.

The Desert Discovery Center is the key element to providing this experience for all Scottsdale residents and tourists. It will support a tourism industry that has a $4 billion annual impact on our economy, providing one out of eight jobs in our community and generating more than $38 million in tax revenue.

It’s time we continue the evolution of the Preserve. It’s time to turn our attention to educating our residents, students and visitors about our unique and fragile environment that is the Sonoran Desert.

The Desert Discovery Center is our opportunity to learn about the desert, benefit from the research about how to care for it — and nurture in each other a deep love and understanding of the mysteries of the desert.

We need to let this process play out with facts — not revisionist history by the “just say no” crowd. We owe it ourselves and future generations.

Editor’s note: Ms. Allen, a Scottsdale resident, was an Arizona Senator from 2002-10.

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