Trails leading to the top of Daisy Mountain from Anthem and New River are an open secret. There are no official trailheads, and anyone trekking up the mountain, which is all on State Trust land, technically needs a permit.
Now, thanks to years of planning and lobbying by a handful of residents and key officials, Maricopa County is pursuing a plan to preserve enough land to make an official trail and tie it into others in the region.
If all goes as planned, the county will obtain an easement from the state for 6 miles of trails that would run from near I-17 on the western side, over the summit, down into New River on the eastern side, and eventually tie into the Maricopa Trail and Tonto National Forest. Key aspects of the plan:
- Trailhead locations haven’t been pinned down, but one possibility would be near the end of Circle Mountain Road, at the northern fringe of Arroyo Norte.
- No trailheads are planned in Anthem, because there is no suitable location with parking.
- How the trail would connect to the Maricopa Trail remains to be determined, but a powerline along the east side of Daisy Mountain offers one partial option.
15 Years in the Making
Efforts to preserve Daisy Mountain date back to the early 2000s, spearheaded by North Country Conservancy and Desert Foothills Land Trust.
But preserving the entire mountain, some 5,000 acres, proved too daunting, procedurally and financially, explained Roger Willis, who has been involved in the discussions since those early days. So a few years ago, the effort was reorganized into Friends of Daisy Mountain Trail, with a more modest goal of making existing trails official and securing trailheads.
“Eat the elephant a bite at a time instead of eating it all at once,” said Willis, the new group’s president and also a director on Anthem Community Council.
Meanwhile, since 2004 the county has had Daisy Mountain’s trails, along with several others, on a map that proposes connections to the Maricopa Trail, a 315-mile loop around the entire county that was completed last year. That’s where Ken Vonderscher comes in.
Vonderscher worked in the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department for 27 years and was involved in securing the Phoenix Sonoran Desert Preserve, which winds through North Phoenix neighborhoods, and he’s been coordinating with Friends of Daisy Mountain Trail and other conservancy organizations for several years. Vonderscher is now the park planning and development manager for Maricopa County.
Vonderscher’s team has surveyed the trails on Daisy Mountain and submitted an application to the State Land Department, seeking an easement. Additional paperwork is scheduled for completion this fall, then the county will discuss a potential auction with the state, likely to involve about 7 acres.
While State Trust land is typically auctioned to developers for the highest bids, Vonderscher has worked with the agency several times for trail easements.
“The State Land Department is a good partner, and they’ve been along for the development of several parcels of the Maricopa Trail,” he said. “I don’t see any significant obstacles with that agency.”
Developers aren’t typically interested in the narrow swaths of land targeted for trails, he explained. The county would have to pay the going rate for the acreage, as determined by the state. The transaction would require approval from the Board of Supervisors, and the county has funds set aside for such purchases, Vonderscher said.
‘Best We Can Do’
The likeliest scenario would be a perpetual easement, paid for up front but secured into perpetuity. Friends of Daisy Mountain Trails could become stewards of the trail, with the county handling any significant maintenance. It’s too early to say when the auction might happen, Vonderscher said.
Preserving trails “is the best we can do” for now, Willis said. “There’s going to be development around the base of Daisy Mountain, at least in certain places. We support the idea of smart growth, using land wisely and retaining as much open space as possible, for education, recreation and health reasons.”
Some undeveloped areas around the mountain’s base are buildable. But the bulk of the mountain has a slope of 15 percent or more, making development more challenging. The county applies a stricter “hillside development standard” to such slopes, requiring 65 percent of a property to remain natural. Any developer would also have to deal with roads, water and sewer.
When and whether developers seek to buy land on the flanks of the mountain remains to be seen. The State Land Department typically reacts to developer interest and market conditions in deciding what and when to sell.
“Who knows, maybe over time we can do some fundraising and buy more of the land,” Willis said. “The trail is hopefully a first step in preserving the mountain for open space.”
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