Open space and outdoor recreation are in even greater demand since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maricopa County Parks Department realized a 55% increase in visitors across its park system in February during the same period in the previous fiscal year; some parks were up over 100%.
The city of Buckeye reported a 35% increase in visitors to Skyline Regional Park in 2020 from the previous year; a 93% increase in April 2020; and 97% increase in July 2020, the middle of Arizona’s summer.
In 2020, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust enlisted the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU to survey the attitudes and beliefs of Arizona voters about the environment and environmental protection relative to other pressing issues facing the state. According to these results, 98% feel Arizona’s parks, preserves, forests and open spaces are important to them. Open space offers a variety of quality of life, ecological and economic benefits to the region, supporting city, county and state plans.
The White Tank Mountains are still wild — home to an abundance of plants and animals, some of which have disappeared from other urban neighboring preserves. Mule deer, mountain lion, javelina, kit fox, roadrunners, great-horned owl, desert tortoise and many other Sonoran Desert species thrive in the White Tank Mountains. This biodiversity exists because these mountains are still connected to natural Sonoran Desert landscapes to the west and north.
However, many of these surrounding lands are slated for urban development and could potentially bring huge change to these mountains.
“Thriving communities depend on healthy ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems depend on biodiversity and resilient wildlife populations. Resilient wildlife populations need room to roam,” said Les Meyers, White Tank Mountains Conservancy executive director.
Keeping it wild
Many mountain ranges in Central Arizona have been isolated by development, resulting in fewer and less diverse plants and animals as natural migration corridors are isolated. These ecological impacts also degrade the quality of the visitor experience. Urbanization now extends into the foothills of the north, east and south flanks of the White Tank Mountains. Total isolation will compromise the plant and animal biodiversity that sustains the very characteristics this mountain landscape is valued for.
To prevent this from happening to the White Tank Mountains, WTMC has launched a collaborative effort called the WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative, as well as a collection of digital stories with interactive maps, StoryMaps, that provide an in-depth look at why sustaining the natural heritage of the White Tank Mountains region is critical. The initiative will provide a host of ecological benefits that will not only conserve this natural heritage of the mountains but also supports a 21st century economy and quality of life for all.
The WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative is a hyperlocal extension of Central Arizona Conservation Alliance’s Regional Open Space Strategy and combines the efforts of many partners to share information about future urban development and presents the imperative for protecting natural areas.
“We envision future communities balancing natural landscapes and thoughtful development with a focus on ecological and economic prosperity,” Meyers said.
Ultimately, the WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative will identify cohesive planning and development solutions that meet the complex needs for wildlife, people, recreation, open space and flood hazard management. The StoryMap is a tool meant to inspire that collaboration to grow.
StoryMap: A tool for
Using multimedia features, the WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative StoryMap serves as a key outreach tool for educational services, community conversations, collaborative visioning and intelligent planning solutions. The virtual platform delivers powerful messages that harness complex data in an engaging story layout and will be used when convening a broad range of stakeholders and advanced policymaker meetings, workshops and events.
The collection includes four topics that can be interpreted collectively or independently: The Connectivity Imperative, What’s At Stake, Booming Cities and A Connectivity Vision.
The StoryMap is meant to demonstrate an opportunity to build on existing plans for open space, parks, recreation and flood hazard mitigation to address the imperative, focusing on the municipal planning boundaries of the cities of Buckeye and Surprise.
Municipal, community and conservation leaders in the region agree that a broad approach to sustainable growth is desirable.
“The Buckeye City Council recently approved our Wildlife Corridors Best Practices Guide, the first document of its kind in the region,” Buckeye Mayor Eric Orsborn said. “The guide demonstrates Buckeye’s continued support the White Tank Mountains Conservancy’s mission to balance the natural and built environment to protect the wildlife population.
“The guide is the foundation to ensure conversations about wildlife corridors are incorporated into the design of current and future neighborhoods and communities.”
It will be critical for cities like Buckeye and Surprise to enhance landscape connectivity within their respective land-use plans to achieve Maricopa County’s vision for the future, as well as each city’s goals for the White Tank Mountain region.
Virtual Event: WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative
The public is invited to a three-part virtual series on this Regional Connectivity Initiative to hear from regional experts on the intersections of protecting open space and natural migration corridors with quality of life and economic vibrancy. Participate in the conversation with diverse stakeholders to envision a more holistic future:
• “What’s at Stake: White Tank Mountains, a Sonoran Desert Legacy,” 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 20.
• “Booming Cities: A Tale of Urban Expansion in Western Maricopa County,” 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 27.
• “A Connectivity Vision: Protecting Place and Passage for Wildlife and People,” 6:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 3.
Registration and speaker announcements are available at
wtmconservancy.org. Events will be held virtually and free of charge.