April 2023
Regional Park or Bulldozed Scar?
Sundog Connector in direct conflict with Granite Dells Regional Park

Recently the City of Prescott, Town of Prescott Valley and Yavapai County approved an Intergovernmental Agreement to purchase about 3,200 acres of Arizona state trust land on and  around Glassford Hill, which will become a major component of the Granite Dells Regional Park and Preserve.

One of our region’s most prominent landmarks is Glassford Hill, a dormant volcano. It overlooks the Dells and includes hundreds of acres of grassland between Prescott and Prescott Valley, and so is a natural addition to the park. This ecosystem is a refuge for a variety of wildlife that includes the iconic, endangered pronghorn. In addition, the grasslands allow for seasonal migration otherwise threatened by roadways such as SR69.

The Sundog Connector is a proposed 100-foot-wide, four-lane divided highway that would be bulldozed into the shoulder of Glassford Hill and connect Prescott Lakes Parkway near SR89 and SR69 in Prescott Valley. A 2013 design-concept report recommended reassessment in 2033 if certain population numbers were reached and SR69 improvements made. Those benchmarks have not been met. Since 2013 there’s been strong public opposition.

Conflicting plans and reports

For decades officials have acknowledged the need to protect Glassford Hill and its ecosystems. In 1997 the Prescott City Council entertained a motion for a Glassford Hill Preserve in partnership with Prescott Valley. A year later Prescott’s Planning  and Zoning Commission referred to its value for “open space, historic values and for its function as a wildlife habitat and major migratory corridor.”

The 2008 Prescott Open Space Master Plan, in Section 3.1 section 2.2, states, "Like Badger Mountain, this site is vulnerable to sale and development. Its potential open-space values include geological, historical (prominent military outlook and heliograph signal post), aesthetic (scenic vista), and ecological (e.g., habitat for pronghorn, deer, eagles, and other wildlife)."

Since the adoption of the Open Space Master Plan the City of Prescott has added parcels in the Granite Dells to its open-space portfolio.

However, the preservation of Glassford Hill and the building of the Sundog Connector  are in direct conflict. The road recently resurfaced in the planning process of the Central Yavapai Planning Organization. CYMPO is taking public input and working with consultants to evaluate options, including a “no-build” alternative. The study will make recommendations to municipal decision-makers.

The proposed highway would cross state lands proposed as the Granite Dells Regional Park and Preserve. We strongly feel that our elected officials must honor the intentions of the community to protect Glassford Hill and ensure the expansion of the Granite Dells Regional Park and Preserve. There are no alternatives to Glassford Hill as a natural area. There are alternatives for solving traffic problems. Why ask the citizens to invest in this precious natural asset and then degrade it by building a major highway through it?

Citizens are making their views known to CYMPO as well as municipal and county leaders charged with final decisions. Save the Dells has produced a detailed position statement, which you can read at savethedells.org. Many members of the public and other entities, including Sundog DISConnect, have come out against this proposed highway.

We have strong ecological and economic arguments against building it, including its negative impact on ecosystems and ecotourism, landscape scarring, bypassing a key economic corridor for Prescott and the Yavapai Tribe on the SR69 corridor, and significant costs to taxpayers for construction.

Securing funding for the purchase of these lands is one step toward its protection. State Rep. Selina Bliss recently introduced House Bill 2518, which requests $3.5 million from the state to match equal funding amounts ($1.75 million each) from Prescott and Prescott Valley for purchase of state lands on and around Glassford Hill.

You can help protect Glassford Hill by weighing in on HB2518, now being considered in the Senate, using Arizona’s Request to Speak System online, which lets citizens give Arizona state lawmakers input on bills while they’re being heard in committees. For more info visit Civic Engagement Beyond Voting at cebv.us/rts.html to create an RTS account.

A parable for the future

In the 1970s north-Phoenix residents began to find desert trails blocked by development — homes built on Camelback Mountain and hilltops flattened for luxury homes. A grassroots group, the Phoenix Mountains Preservation Association, formed and worked tirelessly to protect lands from development. Today, in partnership with this group, Phoenix owns and manages over 8,000 acres of public open space. Did Phoenix squander the best of its natural resources? Almost. Might certain decisions squander the best of Prescott? Yes.

It’s up to us

Communities across the country are using creative strategies to develop in ways that protect water and air quality and preserve natural lands and critical environmental areas, which all contribute to economic health and sustainability. The fate of the Granite Dells Regional Park and Preserve is in our hands and those of our elected officials. Talk with your officials, the CYMPO study team, and your friends and neighbors. Follow up at the ballot box.

Not everything that can be built should be built. It’s now or never for people, wildlife, and community.

Joanne Oellers is Chair of Save the Dells.

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