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A History of save the dells & open space in the greater prescott area

The efforts to save the Granite Dells and many other natural wonders in the greater Prescott area have persisted for decades thanks to the tireless contributions of dedicated advocates.

Six years ago, a group of citizens concerned about the fate of the Granite Dells land recently acquired by Arizona Eco Development (AED) met at a local coffee shop to discuss what could possibly be done to save this special place from destruction. These conversations gave rise to what would eventually become Save the Dells, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Scroll through the timeline below to see the evolution of open space and community advocacy, or jump to your "chapter of interest." All information compiled from city of Prescott, Jim Lawrence, Walt Anderson. These events represent some of the major milestones, purchases, donations, and land exchanges since the 1980s regarding Prescott’s natural areas and parklands (open space) in the Granite Dells region. See 2015 City Open Space Map.

Early Open Space
Prescott Develops NOS
Save the Dells Formation

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Early Open Space

1980's &1990's


  • Natural Parkland purchases or land exchanges. The term “open space” was not in use yet.

    • Stricklin Park

    • Acker Park

    • Storm Ranch parcels north of Watson Lake

    • Granite Dells Ranch parcels north of Willow Lake


  • To some in the city, the presence of the nearby forest and plenty of undeveloped land seemed sufficient for outdoor recreation demand. No clear vision of how much change urban growth would bring.


  • Heritage Fund passed. Arizona Nature Conservancy proposed a Barry Goldwater State Park for Granite Dells. The City of Prescott had money. Prescott mayor dismissed the proposal. 




  • City applies for and receives federal transportation enhancement grants for rails-to-trails purchases from a Utah landowner. More specifically, after the Santa Fe Railroad ceased to connect to Prescott and operate in early 1980s due to flood damage, most ownership changed to a railroad salvage company. Once railroad tracks were removed, the above grants made it possible to negotiate purchases as one of the few rails-to-trails projects in Arizona, thereby creating a linear park through the scenic Granite Dells region.




  • City and Prescott Creeks enter into a lease establishing the 100-acre Watson Woods Riparian Preserve along SR89 and Granite Creek, essentially establishing a large open space preserve. Prescott Creeks then engages in many planning efforts, to include securing grants for restoration efforts.




  • Prescott voters approve purchasing Willow and Watson Lakes and associated land base purchase for $15 million from Chino Valley Irrigation District. These lakes were purchased without open space funds primarily to add them to the city's water portfolio; recreation seemed like a byproduct. This land included some Dells rocks near the lakes, but efforts to buy land in the Dells was not for open space. The bonds issued are repaid through property taxes. A citizen master plan effort follows.


  • Due to increased momentum and workload for trails and rails-to-trails projects, city creates Trails and Open Space Coordinator position and recruits staff person in December (Eric Smith)




  • Following purchases from private property owners using federal transportation enhancement monies for rails-to-trails projects, the city completes and opens the Prescott Peavine Trail on National Trails Day in June. “Peavine” was a former nickname for the Santa Fe, Prescott, and Phoenix Railway completed in 1893. 


  • City develops and adopts the 1999 Prescott Open Space Plan.


  • The City of Prescott, in cooperation with Prescott Valley, petitions Arizona State Land Department to reclassify 1860 acres of Glassford Hill and 1557 acres of Badger Mountain, in cooperation with the now-dissolved Open Space Alliance (OSA), as “Suitable for Conservation Purposes.” The deal was made through the Arizona Preserve Initiative, with the plan to use the State Growing Smarter Funds for ½ of purchases. Both petitions are successful, and both areas are temporarily reclassified.


Prescott develops Open Space acquisitions



In May, Prescott voters approve 1% sales tax extension for street improvement and open space acquisitions.


  • Prescott and Prescott Valley complete Coordination Plan for proposed Glassford Hill Preserve on State Trust Land.   


  • Prescott and PV were working in 1999 on plans to acquire Glassford Hill land prior to the passing of the sales tax in 2000. The city had control of how the Open Space tax funds would be spent, and the Council decided to go after state matching funds. Those funds were only for state lands, so Granite Dells would not qualify, but the Open Space tax funds could have been used to buy Dells land if the Council had seriously wanted to. 


  • City completes and adopts master plan for greenways, initiates construction phase I (e.g., trails, bridges, benches, signs) and conducts a City Council dedication.


  • City begins to use bed tax revenues to enhance/maintain open space parcels, beginning with construction of phase I of Prescott’s Downtown Greenways.


  • Fearing the trends, Prescott citizens voted to collect 1% sales tax for open space acquisition . . .and road improvements. Public assumed about 50% each based on how the City presented the proposal. The City then capped the total to be spent on open space at $40.7M.




  • City purchases the 32-acre hill east of Thumb Butte from two different owners for $1,673,597 (formally known as Prescott Buttes, and sometimes referred to as Butterfly of Gill Hill). This purchase was the driving force from Mayor Sam Steiger to add open space and extend (via the voters) the 1% sales tax for Streets.


  • City purchases 25-acre Ericksson parcel in Granite Dells north of Watson Lake for $352,678.




  • City begins discussions of long-term planning for open space purchases to include using State Growing Smarter Funds. City begins discussions on future management of open space to include various partnerships. 




  • Mayor’s Open Space Acquisition Advisory Committee (OSAAC) is formed. Their charge was to advise Council on Open Space Fund acquisitions. 


  • Mayor Simmons appoints first OSAAC members in 2003. Volunteers; can only make recommendations.


  • Open space opportunities are lost as real estate prices skyrocket.


  • Growing Smarter Act & AZ Preserve Initiative (API) give the city hope that state lands could be acquired for open space.


  • Non-state lands are moved down priority list.


  • Lawsuit scuttles API. State lands not available for open space. 


  • Dorothy Dalke wanted to save her family’s 40 acres within Prescott city limits from development.  Prescott College begins purchase to create an environmentally sensitive campus close to town. The college loses the property.  Dalke family and citizens try to get council to buy it for open space rather than lose it for housing.  City refuses. Last-minute efforts fail, and the public is very upset. Chastened, Council starts to listen to OSAAC.




  • City purchases 34 acres for $1.5 million from Storm Ranch to protect eastern shoreline of Watson Lake. 


  • City of Prescott and Town of Prescott Valley hold a joint grand opening of Prescott Valley’s Iron King Trail at Entro (Prescott & Eastern Junction) in the Granite Dells, where the two railroads connected historically. The Iron King Trail is Prescott Valley’s Rails-to-Trails project that also used federal transportation enhancement funds. The Iron King trail was formerly the Prescott & Eastern Railroad to Mayer and Humboldt, where the Bradshaw Mountain Railroad connected to Poland and Crown King.




  • City purchases 28 acres in the Granite Dells along Granite Creek (the Payne Parcel) from the Trust for Public Lands for $187,000. Central Arizona Land Trust holds the conservation easement.


  • Mayor's Open Space Acquisition Advisory Committee develops a new open space policy that revises many recommendations from the 1999 City of Prescott Open Space Plan. This process includes refining criteria for evaluating parcels for suitability for conservation. This was a key process to create a priority matrix for evaluating potential lands for acquisition. Granite Dells lands always came out on top as priority.


  • City completes 3.5 miles of the Willow Lake Trail providing a multi-use trail that allows easy family-oriented bicycling.


  • City hires Chris Hosking as the city’s Trails Specialist, who proceeds in making much open space accessible via trails.


  • In the spring of 2006, Meredith Marder sued the city contending it had lagged behind in carrying out the wishes of the voters in the 2000 sales tax initiative. She pointed out that during the first six years of the initiative, the city had spent only a small fraction of its sales tax revenues on open space purchases. The lawsuit emphasized the importance of the resolution the City Council approved in 2000, which outlined the city's plans for its open space acquisitions. City officials argued, however, that the City Council had the budgetary authority to determine how best to spend the money, based on land availability and price.


  • In October 2006, a Maricopa County Superior Court Judge agreed with the city, ruling that while the voter-approved initiative was law, the council had discretion over the resolution's "administrative policy." The city council suggested that they would honor the intent to spend up to $40.7M on open space, but they made no serious effort to do so, violating the trust of the public. 



  • City purchases 8.7-acre Hisakota parcel in Granite Dells north of Willow Lake for $527,181.


  • In March, the city performs Parks Master Plan Needs Assessment Report. Results show high public desire for acquiring land to preserve open space. “Open space” was defined as land with conservation values that qualify it to be preserved permanently from development. Priorities are determined by values & characteristics, opportunity, & urgency (degree of threat). Public favored developing new walking/hiking trails and acquiring land for new trails and open space to be reflected in the 2008 Open Space Plan.



  • City purchases 80-acre James parcel for $4,018,067.  This property now features the new and scenic Constellation (recreation) trail system that originates near the Phippen Museum (along SR89). 


  • City purchases 35-acre Granite Gardens / Hazelwood parcel in Granite Dells for $3,056,344.  


  • City purchases six-acre Green Family parcel in Granite Dells for $365,687.


  • City purchases ten-acre Granite Haven parcel in Granite Dells for $503,771.


  • City Council approves Open Space Master Plan by vote of 5-2 in September. Recommends creation of Open Space Commission, but this recommendation not followed.




  • City purchases 80-acre James parcel for $4,018,067. This property now features the Constellation Trail system that originates near the Phippen Museum.


  • City purchases 14-acre parcel Beurie parcel for $842,707. This purchase brings the entire shoreline of Willow Lake into public ownership and allows for a future trail to encircle the lake.


  • City purchases 6-acre Green Family parcel in Granite Dells for. The Green Foundation is established to pay for maintenance costs not covered under Open Space tax fund.


  • Trail construction in association with both lakes begins in Granite Dells region.  


  • Lakeshore and the Over the Hill Trail constructed on a total of 2.4 miles of the 34-acre Storm Ranch purchased in 2004.


  • Open Space Acquisition Advisory Committee is disbanded by outgoing mayor Wilson; committees not re-appointed by incoming mayor Kuykendall.




  • Members of the disbanded Mayor's Open Space Advisory Committee (Dan Campbell, Jim Lawrence, Walt Anderson) create the new 501(c)(3) nonprofit Granite Dells Preservation Foundation.


  • Significant trail construction completed within Granite Dells; new maps are created using GPS’d alignments, and much promotion occurs.


  • Flume and Watson Dam Trails (1.2 miles) constructed on 28 acres of Payne parcel purchased from the Trust for Public Land in Granite Dells in 2005.


  • Red Bridge Loop Trail constructed on Hisakota parcel in Granite Dells north of Willow that was purchased in 2007. Explorer trails (1.6 miles) constructed.




  • By mid-2011, 11 miles of trails have been constructed in the Granite Dells, as part of the Mile-High Trail System.


  • Constellation trails constructed on 80-acre James parcel that was purchased in 2009.




  • Northshore Trail constructed after signing license agreement with Point of Rocks Campground. City purchases of 25-acre Ericksson parcel in Granite Dells north of Watson Lake (0.6 mile) for $352,678 now completing the Watson Loop Trail.


  • East Bay Loops constructed on 14-acre Beurie parcel purchased in 2009. This purchase brings the entire shoreline of Willow Lake into public ownership and completes the 5.7-mile Willow Loop Trail.




  • Granite Gardens Trails (1.5 miles) are constructed on 35-acre Granite Gardens-Hazelwood parcel in Granite Dells purchased in 2008. This property, formerly known as the location for the “400 Club,” has been restored and revegetated and features popular climbing routes.


  • Arizona Eco Development, LLC acquires title to The Granite Dells and Point of Rocks Ranches.



Save the dells Formation & campaign



  • September: “Homes could spring up soon near the Granite Dells’ iconic Point of Rocks, as well as along portions of the popular Peavine Trail — all as a part of the proposed Arizona Eco Development project” - Cindy Barks, The Daily Courier, 


  • What was to become Save the Dells met out of concern for the future of the Granite Dells knowing that major developments were on the horizon – including Arizona Eco Development’s proposal to build homes on 2,500 acres in the Granite Dells and surrounding area.




  • January Save the Dells officially organizes into the political action committee of today begins research into Jason Gisi’s Arizona Eco Development plans for the 15,000 acres of land that includes the heart of the Granite Dells.






  • Save the Dells endorses Cathey Rusing for election to Prescott City Council. Ms. Rusing wins by landslide.





  • Save the Dells expands its vision beyond the transfer of 474 acres of natural open space to the City of Prescott in order to protect the heart of the Granite Dells and promoting the Granite Dells Regional Park and Preserve  to seeking permanent protection of all the city natural open space, speaking out, taking action, and holding the city of Prescott accountable for growth and water decisions, identifying, encouraging, and supporting high-quality candidates, expanding our influence to councils and leadership of nearby communities to begin regional cooperation on these issues.  that area leaders, are informed and engaged in decisions that promote continued open space conservation, science-informed sustainable water-management policies, and reasonable growth that enable all members of a diverse community to achieve a good quality of life while preserving natural ecosystems.



  • Save the Dells endorses Brandon Montoya and Eric Moore for Prescott city council positions and Phil Goode for Prescott mayor. All run on water sustainability, transparency, reasonable growth, and Granite Dells Regional Park and Preserve platforms. All candidates win by landslides




  • Parks and Recreation Department hires consultants to help plan a gateway park along Granite Creek adjacent to Highway 89. The city proposes a library annex and environmental interpretive center in this area.


  • Save the Dells rolls out expansive vision, mission, and goals to reflect needed advocacy on issues of greatest regional public concern. 

  • The city of Prescott, town of Prescott Valley, and Yavapai County sign an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) to share the cost of acquiring Arizona State Trust Lands on and around the Glassford Hill area for the creation of a regional park.

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