THE SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS
What Future Use Will Best Serve Arizona?
A Special Report
The population of Arizona is increasing by some 60,000 people every year -- equivalent to the 1960 populations of Flagstaff, Prescott, Yuma and Safford combined. By 1970 our population will move well beyond 2,000,000. Additional land for commercial and residential purposes will be required. Existing facilities for every public need, including recreation and parks, will feel increasing pressures.
Those of us entrusted with present day leadership in Arizona affairs ought to peer ahead now and then, as best we can, and take a long-range view. This report is an attempt to fulfill part of that responsibility.
The press of population and our nation's diminishing recreational resources throughout the country have made Congress and the President anxious to undertake a long-range program of resource planning. If Arizona has any aspirations and needs in this field, the next few years will be the time to act. I expect that more new national parks, monuments and recreation areas will be created in the next 5 years than in the last 30. By 1964 a new National Recreation Area will come into being around Powell Lake behind Glen Canyon Dam. The 87th Congress has established Cape Cod National Seashore; it is considering and will probably establish new national parks at Point Reyes, California, Padre Island, Texas, and the Utah Canyonlands within the near future. The Wilderness Bill, a central part of this bi-partisan effort, has already passed the Senate and should pass the House before adjournment.
For the past 30 years I've admired from car and airplane the rugged and mysterious Superstition Mountains as they block the horizon east of Phoenix. I've noted with interest and satisfaction the recreational development near Roosevelt Dam and the chain of lakes below. This seems to me a proper moment for Arizonans to take an objective look at these areas and to decide together what -- if anything -- this generation can do to ensure that these beautiful and irreplaceable resources will survive the potent population pressures and serve future generations in their highest and best use.
While I haven't found anyone who wants to turn the Superstitions over to subdividers, there has been a great divergence of opinion about how we should go about preserving them, and about what conservation and recreation uses they best can serve.
Several months ago I suggested in letters to Governor Fannin and various county and state officers and civic groups that consideration should be given to the long-term use and status of the Superstition Mountain area. Since that time, I have had replies from Governor Fannin and the Arizona State Parks Board. In addition I have had personal discussions with the Pinal County Board of Supervisors and have collected a good deal of newspaper comment. On December 4, 1961 I had a most productive meeting at Apache Junction with a large group of government, business and civic leaders, and interested citizens. At the meeting we attempted to explore in a general way possible alternative courses of action.
Following the Apache Junction meeting I decided in January 1962 to ask the Regional Office of the National Park Service for an informal evaluation of the present and potential park and recreational values of the area. The Region Three office made a field trip and responded to my request. This informal response or "report" is referred to below. Since then I have had several dozen letters from representatives of the cattle industry, conservation groups and various interested individuals.
The lands involved are partly in Maricopa County, and the entire area is directly adjacent to the Phoenix metropolitan area. Any major change in status of the Superstitions would affect a major part of our population. No change should be considered unless there is a substantial degree of agreement among the congressional delegation, conservation groups, user groups and interested citizens; I find no such measure of agreement.
One Immediate Recommendation
Because there is no clearcut consensus at
this time, because opinions are sharply divided, because a great number
of unfounded fears have been expressed, and because much misinformation
has been circulated, I make only one relatively minor recommendation at
What Are the Areas Involved?
First, let us make an inventory of the resources
under discussion. These lands can be logically divided into two separate
The two areas as a unit thus comprise about 220,000 acres. About 60 percent is in Maricopa County, 30 percent in Pinal and 10 percent in Gila. They are within an hour's drive from the Greater Phoenix area, two hours' drive from Tucson, and one to three hours' drive from Globe-Miami (depending on the road taken).
Present Commercial Uses
As noted, these two areas are entirely within the National Forest system. There is little or no privately owned land. Any change in status, which might eventually be considered desirable, would not require any expenditure for land
acquisition. Official Forest Service information
discloses these facts:
A Special Problem -- The Battle of the Bureaus
I undertook my review of this situation with no preconceived notions about what should be done -- nor with any idea about which federal agency should administer the area. However, I soon encountered the cross-fire of an old and well-advertised feud between the career employees of the Forest Service and those of the National Park Service. As Harper's Magazine, noted in its April 1962 issue: "...In Washington two rival bureaus are battling savagely for control of our outdoor recreation facilities...This rivalry is as grave a threat to field and stream, park and forest as were the predatory lumber, mining and cattle barons of the past. The principal adversaries are the Agriculture and Interior Departments".
In early 1962 I circulated for comment among a few interested people a rough, confidential, and very tentative draft of my preliminary findings and conclusions. This apparently reached the hands of a few individual Forest Service personnel. Within a short time thereafter I began to receive a whole series of letters from representatives of sheep and cattle associations, game protective groups and others. All of these protested "proposals" I had not made. Many of them had been informed that the Interior Department was working with me in some kind of imminent plot to seize all this Forest Service territory for a new National Park.
I want to emphasize that the idea of restudying the Superstitions originated with me; that NPS has taken no position nor made any recommendations; its regional office only responded to my inquiry. In fairness, too, let me make it clear that the Regional officers of the Forest Service have treated me with complete fairness and courtesy, responding promptly to similar requests for information. I suspect that any misunderstanding has resulted from excessive zeal on the part of a few individual USFS personnel.
This development is related only to suggest that any decision which is made -- even a decision to leave the lands in present status, as many sincere people advocate -- should be reached only after full public discussion of all points of view. The future of the Superstitions is an important resource decision which should be made in the light of the national and public interest and without regard to inter-agency conflicts. For my part I hope this attitude will prevail.
Alternative Development Proposals
In my original letters posing the problem to state and local officials, I suggested consideration of possible development by either (a) county and local governments, (b) The Arizona State Parks Board, or (c) the federal government. In the light of my study and subsequent developments, I would now make these general observations:
A. Major Development By Pinal County Is Not Feasible. The Board of Supervisors of Pinal County is of the opinion that an undertaking of this kind and size is entirely beyond its budget and staff capacities. The supervisors favor federal development and control. We can therefore exclude county development except for the small county park in the lower-westerly foothills of the "Mountain Wilderness Area" as described above.
B. Arizona State Parks
Board Does Not Wish To Acquire
Or Develop The Area. The Arizona Parks Board
has reported that it is not in a position to undertake this large development.
The Board's communication states in part:
C. Federal Ownership And Development Seems The Only Logical Alternative. By this elimination process we are left with continued federal ownership, and development by some federal agency as the basis for any future policy. Federal development would not involve any land acquisition costs since all affected land is now federally owned.
Three Forms of Federal Development
Federal development and administration can
take one of three general courses:
One can advance many arguments in favor of and against, each of these proposals, and some are considered below. My mail is divided with considerable support for each.
Keep The Present Status With USFS Administration
This course is favored by a resolution of the Arizona Conservation Council.
If no action is taken by Congress, the "Mountain Wilderness Area" would remain under Forest Service jurisdiction, and should the Wilderness Bill become law this portion of the overall area would undoubtedly become a part of the wilderness system. Roads or other facilities would be forbidden, and the area would be available only to those going in on foot or by horse. Many persons consider this a desirable situation; others object that such a result would deny the beauty and recreation potential to all but the young and healthy, etc. Much has already been done to improve and develop the Apache Trail-Salt River Lakes segment. With the limited personnel and resources permitted by its budget the Forest Service has provided some picnic areas, campgrounds, and beaches. Concessionaires have installed marinas, food and lodging services. The Arizona Fish and Game Commission cooperates in a fish stocking program. Maricopa County improved and paved much of the Apache Trail, and its County Sheriff cooperates with the Forest Service in law-enforcement responsibilities. Unpaid auxiliary deputies have assisted with weekend patrolling. Many private individuals and sportsmen's groups have volunteered services and materials needed for better facilities, and control. These commendable joint efforts have done much to meet the ever-increasing public use of this popular recreation area.
National Recreation Area Status -- Development Of Apache Trail-Salt River Lakes Portion Only.
Under this proposal, legislation would be sought to create a Superstition National Recreation Area which would include both the mountain wilderness area, Apache Trail and the Salt River lakes. However, the "Mountain Wilderness Area" portion would be left in its present form with no roads or developments. The National Park Service would take over and develop the scenic and recreation potential along the Apache Trail and the three lakes.
In 1939 Senator Carl Hayden requested the
National Park Service to investigate the Superstition area to determine
if it could be considered for inclusion in the National Park System. After
a field trip and study the Interior Department concluded that there was
then insufficient justification for national park system status. Because
State Parks Director Dennis McCarthy had suggested in August 1961 that
the area would probably meet National Park System criteria, I asked NPS
for another survey and opinion. I quote a portion of their February, 1962
National Recreation Area status for this area would have one important distinction from National Park or Monument status: in a National Recreation Area some multiple uses are permitted and existing grazing rights, etc., can be preserved. This is not true generally in National Parks and Monuments.
National Recreation Area Status -- Same Development As Proposal Two, Plus Limited Development Of "Mountain Wilderness".
This proposal would also require legislation to create a Superstition National Recreation Area including both of the two portions described above. In addition to developing the Apache Trail-Salt River Lakes portion as under Proposal Two, the National Park Service would develop the Superstition Mountain area in a manner somewhat similar to Chiricahua and Organ Pipe National Monuments. This would include perhaps one loop road reaching into the present wilderness area, traversing near Superstition Peak, Weaver's Needle and other points of interest, with perhaps one or two facilities for travelers along the road.
The principal advantage of Proposal Three is that it would make the beauty of the mountain wilderness area accessible to the general public. Opponents of this course urge that such development defeats itself by destroying the "wilderness" in order that people may see it.
Most of those who have hiked or ridden into
the Superstition Wilderness Area are strongly opposed to any change in
its present character. The National Park Service report takes the same
view, declaring in part:
As indicated at the outset I am unwilling for the present to make any recommendation as among major proposals One, Two and Three. Of course, "Proposal One" is simply the present status quo, while federal legislation would be required to choose "Two" or "Three". Without broad bi-partisan support among interested Arizonans for a change the present use and administration of these areas will continue. In my opinion such support does not now exist. If "One" is to be the course chosen I trust this will be a conscious decision of all concerned, made after full consideration of the alternatives. To this end I have taken the trouble to present this lengthy report.
On the positive side I do urge that legislation be drafted and sponsored so that the local park near Apache Junction can be obtained and established while land is still available. The Pinal County Board of Supervisors has suggested two potential sites, both in the western Superstition foothills. This type of day-use park containing picnic and general recreation areas has proven an invaluable community asset in Tucson Mountain Park and elsewhere. It could do much to relieve the pressure on facilities in the federally-administered area.
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This report will be circulated to all concerned. Comments are solicited and will be carefully considered.