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Update on McDowell Mountains Access
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By Robert E
From Chandler, AZ
Oct 21, 2009

City of Scottsdale planning for the North Access Area at the north end of the McDowells is proceeding. Climbing is now recognized as a legitimate activity (City approved) as long as we comply with the rules of the Preserve and guidelines for rock climbing. Rules will include item like stay on designated climber paths and no new bolts in new locations. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve, in which the rock climbing occurs, is intended to preserve the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert and we must tread lightly. We should be pleased to have kept all the historic rock climbing.

The Arizona Mountaineering Club applied for a grant from the Access Fund to install trail signage at critical points for climbers so that we all can do our part to help preserve the natural terrain. Essentially this will be somewhat like the Pinnacle Peak Park model with main trails and designated climber paths leading off the main trails. I am pleased to announce that the Access Fund awarded the grant and we will be reaching out to local climbers to help with work projects to install the signs.

On the other side of the equation, we will need to change some of our habits. There are already several road and trail closures which we must respect.

Three new temporary parking areas exist for the north McDowells. El Paraiso is the east-west dirt road. It is now closed west (before) the traditional Sven Slab parking area. The permanent parking is being designed, and we can park just west of the traditional access (where some folks have parked anyway). In addition, there are two temporary parking lots in the vicinity of the historic Morrell's Parking Area. The permanent parking will also be in these areas. Please do not park elsewhere along El Paraiso or otherwise in the desert and hike cross-country.

The old north-south road that to Tom's Thumb past the lone house is now closed to public access. We tried hard to retain some parking in this area, but it was not negotiable. Please respect the City mandate and park at the Temporary lots.

There is new access to the climbs in the Tom's thumb cirque. Tom's Thumb primary access is on a new City Tom's Thumb trail. Prepare for a big vertical and long hike, but the trail is great. At TT#3 (pole with numbered emergency marker) along the new Tom's Thumb trail, a new climber's path leads west toward Fort McDowell, Half and Half, and Lost Wall. Tom's Thumb can also be access this way by traveling easterly along the top of the ridge line.

Gardener's Wall can now only be accessed on the new climber's trail at TT#5 part way up the first hill on the new Tom's Thumb trail. It contours from the main trail around the wash and climbs up to Gardener's Wall just above the large boulders that hold the cave. Return the same way. All access to the "cave" and up the wash (historic access) will be closed. This is a critical wildlife habitat and the City is adamant about keeping humans out in order to restore the native habitat.

All the new trails are either fairly well established or marked with orange and pink surveyor’s tape. Please leave these markers in place.

While considering climbing in the area, access to Sven Towers I, II, and III is now a lot easier. Those rock formations face east toward Four Peaks and are at the head of Mesquite Canyon. They contain some long moderates (multi pitch) where the AMC has been holding outings. There is a good set of trails leading up and out of the wash to the southeast from the large boulder (Morrell's Boulder) by the Temporary parking.

Please do what you can to educate other climbers. The tradeoff is that we get to keep all the historic rock climbing. We may have to walk a little further to those crags, but it's worth it considering the alternative.

If you want more information, please contact Erik Filsinger off line at smorefil@aol.com.


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By manuel rangel
From Tempe, Arizona
Oct 21, 2009
Trying to redpoint The Ugly 11c; steeper than it looks and the rock is scary in spots but good enough.

Even worse news, Paraiso Road will have a gate across it. It will be open during daylight hours only.

The NIMBY types have gotten a gate put in to stop vandalism etc; although none has been reported. Only one burglary in 3 years and yet they have to stop people that have been using this road since it was a dirt road. Sucks.

If you do approach via Paraiso and have to return in the dark, as may happen, use 128th Street's bumpy dusty road. Hopefully the wind is blowing west towardst the neighborhood that is keeping us out.


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By kirra
Oct 21, 2009

manuel rangel wrote:
Hopefully the wind is blowing west towardst the neighborhood that is keeping us out.

Troon, may the dust forever clog your pool filters & the scorpions invite you to tea


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By Tradster
From Phoenix, AZ
Oct 22, 2009

The new improved approach adds at least 45 minutes to the hike into Gardners or Tom's Thumb. As far as new bolts...well, in my opinion Scottsdale will never know whether there are new ones placed or not. Not that I'm saying anyone do that... After all, all the little volunteer ranger Nazis in Scottsdale spend their time at the pretty people visitor center.

I say f**k Troon and all those snob turds. Their idea of desert recreation is to sit on the patios in their gated communities staring up at Pinnacle Peak or go golfing.


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By Pete Hickman
From Tacoma, WA
Oct 22, 2009
the crocoduck

I wonder if there is any chance of the city permitting dispersed camping in the area of Tom's Thumb and Gardner's wall since the hike is even longer now.


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By Tradster
From Phoenix, AZ
Oct 22, 2009

Are you serious? Scottsdale banned camping out there years ago. Here is how Scottsdale Parks works: if it means extra work, it won't happen. Phoenix lets you leave it's parking areas at the various places (SoMo, Dreamy Draw, 40th Street, 32nd Street, 24th Street) all after dark. Scottsdale locks you in if you are late getting out. Scottsdale is the most user unfriendly place I've seen in AZ> At Pinnacle Peak I had a little Nazi ranger volunteer come up and yell in my face for being five freakin' minutes late. He was a foot from my face yelling at me, spittle flying everywhere. I looked at him and said: 'Asshole I've been climbing here for years before your little ass showed up. Get outta my face or I'll put a #5 Camolot up your ass.'

I hate Scottsdale. The whole city is nothing but a pimp for developers.


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By Fletch
From Scottsdale
Oct 22, 2009
Summit of Sheepshead--2004

Wow, this really BLOWS. I think Greg is right. This will pretty much eliminate Tom's Thumb. It won't be worth the hike. Not sure I understand where this new parking is, but I'm going out on a limb to say that I DOUBT overcrowding is going to be a problem.

BTW: I'm pretty sure that the graffiti in that cave was NOT climbers and I sincerely doubt that there has been ANY wildlife there in many years.


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By Pete Hickman
From Tacoma, WA
Oct 22, 2009
the crocoduck

No, clearly the cave was tagged by an ancient tribe of pot smokers. Can anyone with experience with the city confirm Tradster's pessimism i.e. there is no point even trying to push camping for climbers in light of the new trail arrangement?


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By mcarizona
From Flag
Oct 22, 2009

I wasn't too psyched about pinnicle peak turning into a park and the mcdowells have been touchy ever since that house went in on gardner's wall trail. THEY ARE SQUEEZING US OUT! Last time I went, I camped at that pay camp what, east of sven. Lame!

Thanks OP for working on that and getting us the info anyway.

Steve


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By manuel rangel
From Tempe, Arizona
Oct 22, 2009
Trying to redpoint The Ugly 11c; steeper than it looks and the rock is scary in spots but good enough.

There is no camping allowed. We are lucky to be allowed in at all in this Preserve the City of Scottsdale owns. If you want it changed, good luck. I think we got as good as we can get. At least nobody is gonna spit in Tradster's face up there. Not yet anyway.

The new parking is really not much further than the old place,the parking area is at Morrell Wall, just a bit further drive east but not much. The trail from the new parking lot skirts the hillside above the old way in; Tom's Thumb has always been a long walk. I never made it in less than 45 minutes on the trail skirting Gardener's Wall. Now we are required to stay on the trails (no more bushwhacking ala the approach instructions on this site: Greg, maybe you could change that?) since part of the Preserve's intention is to save the flora and fauna. I used to see lots of deer and javelina there years ago. I was told folks still see them occasionally so I can understand wanting to limit impact to specific areas.

Tradster: did it really take you an hour an a half or more? I'll have to get out and walk the trail, I haven't been out this season yet. Report to follow.


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By Tradster
From Phoenix, AZ
Oct 22, 2009

Manny:

I figure it adds at least 25-30 minutes perhaps, but I was a slow poke the day I went in. The old Gardner's Wall Trail as it existed was not a sustainable trail. It was too steep and went straight up that wash. The new trail is definitely a much better version environmentally...it won't erode out like the old way in. In fact, you can mountain bike the new trail, which would be a climb fest. The nice thing is you could ride the bike from Tom's Thumb all the way back down to the parking lot. Now that would be totally bitchin'!!!

I did see six deer there last time I went in, so the critters are still hanging around.

We are lucky to still have access. Scottsdale took at least 7 years to give us back access to Pinnacle Peak. If it wasn't for the AMC looking into the contract agreement between the city and the developer, Scottsdale fully intended to deny access to Pinnacle Peak, as that is what the local resident carpetbaggers wanted. They got caught being at minimum deceptive, and lost out and essentially was forced to create access there. Like I said, Scottsdale is a pimp to developers.


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By Robert E
From Chandler, AZ
Oct 22, 2009

For those that haven't been out to the McDowell's of late, there's still plenty of wildlife; I've personally seen an eagle, lots of owls, many javelina, deer, a bobcat and more - all within the past 10 months.

The trails are pretty decent too. What you might spend in a little extra time getting to Tom's Thumb now more than makes up for the bushwhacking we used to do going straight up the hill near Gardiner's Wall. There's also a climber's trail that branches off from the new Tom Thumb's Trail, traverses the wash near Sean Murphy's house (the house near the old trail head to Tom's Thumb/Gardiner's Wall) and proceeds up to the ridge line to the right of Tom's Thumb.

While I can not speak to the AMC's role in restoring Pinnacle Peak (I wasn't a member then), I know that they were involved, and being a current AMC insider, I know that Erik Filsinger has been instrumental in saving 'climbing' from the preserve extremists whose idea is that no human footprint should be found within the preserve. I've watched him maneuver the political minefield on this issue and never lose sight of the goal: "keep rock climbing in the McDowells". So thanks to Erik and whoever else is involved that has worked to maintain climbing in this area.

To those that were instrumental in restoring climbing at Pinnacle Peak, I thank you also, for I too can climb there now.

So if you haven't been out to the McDowell's in a while, come on out to the AMC's adopt-a-crag on Halloween (10/31) (see previous post), spend a few hours in the morning putting up Access Fund funded signage for climbers trails, climb in the afternoon, and get reacquainted with the land.

Note: If you're going to the adopt-a-crag, please let Erik know (see previous post) so that he can plan with the City of Scottsdale to have support for all of the participants.

While a 'preserve' solution may not be the best alternative in the eyes of many climbers, the alternative could have been complete loss of climbing access to a non-preserve environment. One needs only look to the encroaching neighborhoods in the south to realize that it would only be a matter of time before the developers encircled the mountains and closed access for a good long time.

On another positive note, I understand that the area around Little Granite Mountain and Cholla Mountain is destined to be preserve as well, eventually saving the historic climbing areas there too from the developer's bulldozer.

Climb on everyone. Hope to meet you all at the adopt-a-crag.

Robert England - on behalf of myself. No 5.10 climber or first ascentionist to be sure, but enthusiast just the same.


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By Tradster
From Phoenix, AZ
Oct 22, 2009

Greg:

Anna and Dief did have plenty to do with it, I kind of just merged them with the old AMC. The new mountain biking is awesome, but it would be nice to night ride it too, but the sunset lock-down time is a bummer. Went from Pemberton to Wingate Pass down to Gateway in Scottsdale, a very nice ride.

I wasn't referring to the designated climbing trail per se, but the system that socially exists up there. I figure you could ride up to it from the west side but that is just speculation on my part, as I haven't ridden it yet.

Manny, Tom's Thumb on Sunday sounds good. I'll PM you with my cell #.


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By manuel rangel
From Tempe, Arizona
Oct 23, 2009
Trying to redpoint The Ugly 11c; steeper than it looks and the rock is scary in spots but good enough.

I went and hiked up the Tom's Thumb trail from Morrell Wall with a friend and my fat dog. It begins up a series of steep switchbacks. We had to stop a couple times, she's not much of a hiker.

We made it to the junction with the ridge trail about 30 minutes later. Here's the view you see when you come abreast of Gardener's Wall (Tom's Thumb lies beyond):


The new trail continues along the ridge behind Glass Dome and Gardeners Wall to the base of Tom's Thumb another 30 minutes for us.

On the way back we had a great view of the steep trail and the house near the old way into Gardeners Wall.


The best trail may be to take the other trail heading west along the flat desert to the ridge just west and below Tom's Thumb. Next time.


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By CMB
Oct 26, 2009

Hiked to Tom's Thumb yesterday, it's apparent that a lot of hard work went in to creating it...

Did note one thing though, the first section of the trail (steep grade up to the Morrell Wall)... is going to be a great place to sit and watch people eat sh*t.

those who built the trail did SUCH a good job flatting and removing every rock/feature on the trail that coming down some sections where the grade is steep enough it is like walking on marbles (granite pebbles)... I am looking forward to the show! =)

Hope this gets roughed up a bit or we might have to go find a more natural way up similar to the one they just closed...


------------------
"Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them." ~Bill Vaughn


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By Michael John Gray
From Queensbury, NY
Oct 27, 2009
im stoked on the quality of this wonderful climb!

wow! That sucks they are making access difficult... Specially to the thumb! Does anyone know if the Wild Horses that live or lived at the base of the mcdowells got to stay on their land there? Seems similar to what they did at lumpy. The hike to Sundance is a lot longer now too. I loved those horses!


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By ErikF
Oct 28, 2009

Having been involved with rock climbing developments with the City of Scottsdale for about 15 years, I would like to share my perspective on the formal re-opening of the north McDowell rock climbing areas. If anyone wants more information, I would be happy to visit offline with you at smorefil@aol.com.

The Preserve is currently around 16,000 acres of land purchased and owned by the City of Scottsdale. It is managed by City staff. The citizens of Scottsdale voted several times to tax themselves to buy and set aside for preservation this land that otherwise would have been developed into homes, resorts, and golf courses.

Climbers have been involved with the Preserve from the beginning. Paul Diefenderfer and Tom Matthews (Access Fund Regional Coordinator at the time) were among those who attended meetings of Scottsdale citizens in the early 1990s who felt that, “We need to stop losing an acre an hour to development.”

After the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission was formed, Bill Berkley from the AMC was appointed as a Commissioner. Wayne Schroeter of the AMC joined the effort and past AMC Presidents Tim Schneider, Tom Conner and Sue Goins were prominent and influential speakers for the “Save the McDowells” campaign. These rock climbers established extremely good relationships with City of Scottsdale staff and officials that continue to this day. I became a member of the Preserve Commission’s Planning Sub-Committee in the 1990s and have just come off a 6-year term as a Commissioner, serving the last several years as the Commission’s Vice Chair.

The purpose of the Preserve is to protect and preserve the land and the flora and fauna on it. That was clear in the citizen votes and in the governing ordinances passed by City Council. While education and recreation are also recognized, they are secondary to land preservation. (See: Chapter 21 of City Code is the Preserve Ordinance - library6.municode.com/default-test/home.htm?infobase=10075&d>>>.

In this sense the Preserve is more akin to other nature preserves, not to city, state or federal parks. When you visit the Preserve, you are entering lands where the land owner feels very similarly to how the Nature Conservancy views Aravaipa Canyon or Hart Prairie near Snowbowl. A fair comparison would be to the Conservation Easement adjacent to Lumpy Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park; off trail hiking is prohibited where the trail to Lumpy Ridge crosses the Conservation Easement.

Over the years we have tried very hard to find ways to get the most climbing we possibly could. We have had to deal with those who wanted to label climbing an “off-trail” activity and prohibit it entirely (a similar argument has pretty much done away with rock climbing in the White Tanks, etc.); with those who wanted to “remove the bolts”; and with those who took a “no new climbing crags” stance, even when new City trails open potential new climbing, e.g., Sunrise Slabs to the south.

Against the backdrop of a “Preserve,” and working within the confines of an official mandate of “No Off Trail Activities,” the City Staff and Preserve Commission have come up with a way to allow for continued rock climbing. They have identified historic use trails to climbing crags, and where necessary are in the process of realigning those for sustainability. These are now part of the City's Rock Climbing Plan for the North Access Area (see AMC web site).

We have been able to save all of the historic rock climbing, though with no new bolts in new locations, and climbers must stay on the designated trails. If it's in Waugh’s or Opland's guide books, we can keep climbing. The AMC web site has maps and other documents - www.amcaz.org/Access_Issues/Access.htm. If contacted offline, I can email you photo/maps of other less well known crags where we will be able to continue climbing.

While all of us would probably like it to stay the way it was in the good ol’ days, consider the alternative – homes, resorts and golf courses. Isn’t “all the historic climbing” a reasonably good outcome? Troon Mountain, Lower East Wall, and the Boulders are basically lost forever – that could have true here too if not for the work of climbers.

Enjoy the beauty and get on some mighty fine granite!
Erik Filsinger


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By Marcy
From Tempe/Tuscon, AZ
Oct 29, 2009
the tornado

Wow, Erik - that's great information. My thanks to you and everyone who have worked to ensure that we still can climb in the McDowells. Nice job! I haven't been on the new trails yet, but I don't mind a good long hike to get to some great climbing. I'll have to check it out.

I've been climbing in the McDowells for less than a decade, but the amount of development in just that time is crazy. Glad to hear that it won't continue all the way up to Tom's Thumb and beyond.


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By Tradster
From Phoenix, AZ
Oct 29, 2009

Greg wrote:
* commentary deleted * Ya know what... never mind. In the end, it is what it is. The deal is done. Enjoy the hike, it's a beautiful place. edit: I will add one prognostication - with basically one main access point for the entire north side, there will come a day when the development has been done and there are thousands more people living there on the north side of the McDowells, that the parking lot will be full pretty much any time you want to go there, the cars will be lined up waiting for a parking spot, there will be NO PARKING signs lining the road to the trailhead, and Scottsdale Police writing citations for people parking out of bounds. And maybe then, climbers (who will be battling with all the hikers for an extremely limited resource) will go "AHHHHHH... I understand!!!" Now is the time, before all that development to put in more good access points, but the power brokers ain't gonna do it. Doesn't take that much imagination to see where it's going to go.


Typical Scottsdale...a pox on that shitty city!


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By Marcy
From Tempe/Tuscon, AZ
Oct 29, 2009
the tornado

Sure, more access points would be a good thing. What was the reason for just one access point? I'm certainly not a cheerleader for Scottsdale, but I'm glad that climbing was not banned.

My comments are based on my personal experiences only. Every time I've ever been out to the area, there has been maybe one or two other vehicles at the most, but usually mine was the only one (Gardners, Morrels, Sven, etc.).


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By ErikF
Oct 29, 2009

Actually the City anticipated much of this(within the confines of the "Preserve" mandates). If you all recall the recent Pinnacle Peak Resort case and the problems over the years with parking at Pinnacle Peak (actually the street parking was part of the original master plan but the limitation of a parking lot sized to only 40 cars was the problem), the City finally got it and authorized the new developer to be responsible for putting in 200 or so parking places, the amount requested by the Friends of Pinnacle Peak Park.

Learning from that experience, the plans for the trail heads for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve have been pretty well set for about 10 years. Each trail head was selected and designated to have a certain capacity. See www.scottsdaleaz.gov/preserve.asp
from the City's web site for more information on the proposed trail heads. We have tried over the years to obtain more access, but it will not be forth coming.

Yes, there will be a ton of more development in north Scottsdale. All along 128th street new subdivisions will be doing in (in fact, a new 40 acre subdivision was just approved on the NE corner of El Paraiso and 128th Street).

Therefore, what we need to do is to ensure that we avoid the Pinnacle Peak (and Camelback) nightmare of inadequate parking. We need to work for the fully designed North Access Area with sufficient parking to accomodate all the parking anticipated for all the users.

The City plan is for the North Access Area to be a major community trail head similar to Lost Dog Wash (up to 200 parking spaces). Unfortunately, we probably should support as full build out of that as possible while keeping it as environmentally friendly as possible.

Yes, it frosts me to no end to have private gated communities lining the boundary of the Preserve with the Preserve as a back-drop for multi-million dollar homes. There are only a half dozen or so access points for all of the 16,000 acres of the Preserve. I guess I make whatever peace with it I can by knowing that I can still climb there and that I can hike on the mountains at all.

Erik


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By ErikF
Oct 29, 2009

to lighten up a little - the horses - interesting story and different angle.

the horses belong to George (i'll just use first name). George was actually a national Rodeo Champ of the 1960's. He still rides the range in a 1950's white pick up, that one day i found out there in a ditch. his brakes had blown out, so he just coasted around and worked into uphill grades until one day he couldn't get enough traction and lost it. all 4 tires were gone. i came across the truck and was worried because the glass in the windows was broken and one of the door had sprung loose from the coat hanger holding it to the frame. fortunately i got "S", the guy who lives in the lone house up there, who found George, got him home, and then took his tractor to retrieve the old white pick-me-up.

neat horses. pretty wild for sure. i love to look into their eyes. occasionally i see that mountain lion the horse fought off from the herd the night before...

one issue i have with my more hard core scottsdale preservation friends is - there is an effort underway to try to remove the horses in order to restore the Preserve to its pre-human days. Shame on them! I love them horses... Fortunately that item isn't going to happen soon and we can still enjoy sharing the range with George's best.


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By Tradster
From Phoenix, AZ
Oct 29, 2009

Greg is right. Just wait until 128th Street is paved, then all the pretty people can drive their Escalades, Volvo & BMW SUVs without getting them dusty. At least we have access until the sun sets every day.


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By roman d
From Pasadena, CA
Oct 29, 2009

Speaking of new developments out there, there are some suspicious roads and cul-de-sacs shown in google maps NW of 128th and Paraiso




google maps link here


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By Marcy
From Tempe/Tuscon, AZ
Oct 29, 2009
the tornado

ErikF wrote:
The City plan is for the North Access Area to be a major community trail head similar to Lost Dog Wash (up to 200 parking spaces). Unfortunately, we probably should support as full build out of that as possible while keeping it as environmentally friendly as possible. Erik


Erik - are you saying that this allotment of up to 200 spaces is already in the works, or that it is still being negotiated? That "up to" wording seems pretty ambiguous - could mean 200 or could mean 1.


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By ErikF
Oct 29, 2009

Roman,
That's Serena Canyon. But... all of the private land in Scottsdale will be developed, and as soon as the lenders start funding again you will see bulldozers all up and down 128th Street. Yes, there are already planned and approved subdivisions on all of the private land in the immediate area. With land valuations at over $200,000 per acre, it's no wonder.
Let's give credit to the preservationists in Scottsdale for seeing that coming in the early 1990's and taxing themselves to buy the land in order to preserve it. The boundaries of the Preserve are on the hiking maps I linked above. It is highly unlikely that it will be possible to expand those boundaries. All else will be developed.

Marcy,
I'm pushing the City staff for the largest number parking places that the land planners see as the likely demand. I believe that it the lower end of the first stage will be at least 100 parking places, in a number of smaller parking "nodes" scattered between Sven Slab and Morrell's Wwall. At least that should minimize the impact. At any rate, the City has hired a land planner to lay out the North Access Area and we can have impact on what they come up with. (in the context of the Preserve mandates and the demand Scottsdale residents will also place on the area).
If anyone wants maps, etc., contact me offline at smorefil@aol.com.


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