Arizona Town to Lease BLM Land for New Park
Buckeye, Ariz., is leasing nearly 8,700 acres to transform the desert lands into a camping hub complete with picnic areas, campgrounds and hiking and equestrian trails, the Tucson Citizen reported.
The town has signed a lease agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to develop 8,675 acres (13 square miles) in the far West Valley into a regional park over the next 25 years.
Buckeye plans to annex the land and begin constructing access roads to develop what for now is being called Buckeye White Tank Regional Park.
After 25 years, if BLM officials are satisfied with what Buckeye has done with property, they will transfer ownership to Buckeye. Buckeye leased the land at no cost under the federal Recreation and Public Purposes Act, enacted by Congress in 1954.
“It is a rather large acquisition, but the parcel was isolated from other blocks of public land. We had no interest in that land,” said Jim Andersen, a land-realty specialist for the BLM.
Under the plan, the entrance to Buckeye White Tank Regional Park will be at the end of Watson Road, about 2 miles north of Interstate 10 and south of Maricopa County’s White Tank Mountain Regional Park.
The nearly 8,700 acres border White Tank Mountain Regional Park, an area already made popular by the lure of scenic desert hiking, campsite grounds and wildlife.
Buckeye officials hope to partner with the county and create trails that will interweave with existing trails at the White Tank Mountains.
“We haven’t decided on a final name for Buckeye’s park,” said Robert Wisener, Buckeye conservation and project manager. “We do want the trail systems together and to get a general number of mountain-biking, equestrian and hiking trails.”
The acquired lands have interesting wildlife, including the Sonoran desert tortoise and pocketed free-tailed bat, and cultural appeal, seen in two sites with petroglyphs in the Hohokam style, according to an environmental assessment by SWCA Environmental Consultants.
The assessment, which the Phoenix-based company completed in 2009 for the town, is part of the application process required by the BLM.
The study found that using the land for regional-park recreation did not cause significant impact to animal or cultural habitats in the area.
The public will have to wait to see those attractions because there is no vehicle access to the land, Wisener said.
First, the town has to annex the property, a 16- to 18-month process, Wisener said. During the next five years, the town will build an entry road from Watson Road, a fee station and up to 20 parking spaces; improve existing trails; construct about 15 ramadas and picnic tables; and pave some roads to control off-road-vehicle use.
Buckeye initially planned to use about $2.3 million in impact fees collected to pay for the first phase of development. But now the town is pursuing alternative funding because of state legislation regulating the use of impact fees and how much can be spent on parks, said Cheryl Sedig, Buckeye’s director of community services.
Long-term plans for the park include developing about 15 acres for campground sites and about 25 acres for other park facilities, such as a visitor center, a small amphitheater, equestrian parking and bathrooms.
Buckeye is forming an advisory committee that will assist in creating a master plan for the future park.
The committee will determine plans for the park’s general use, protection and conservation as well as construction timelines.
“These efforts to plan ahead will mean significant savings of taxpayer dollars while, at the same time, protecting the beautiful desert environment we enjoy every day,” Stephen Cleveland, Buckeye town manager, said in a statement about the lease.