Anywhere you stand in Fountain Hills, you can look toward the McDowell Mountains to the West and appreciate the untouched view of this beautiful desert mountain range. Dozens of residents had the foresight to preserve this area from development in the 1990s. Today, residents also value the Preserve for its interconnected hiking and mountain biking trails.
In 1995, a task force of eleven members outlined a strategy for turning this section of the McDowell Mountains into a preserve. With approval from Town Council, the McDowell Mountain Preserve Commission was formed the following year. The goal was to acquire as much land in the mountains as possible.
Around the same time, the Sonoran Conservancy of Fountain Hills formed to gain public support for this effort.
In 1997, the two groups and Town Council called for voter approval of $6 million in General Obligation Bonds to purchase land in the priority areas. In November 1997, 64% of voters supported the bond.
In 1999, the Town proclaimed 386 acres as the Fountain Hills McDowell Mountain Preserve from land acquired from a previous settlement agreement and land trade. However, more land was needed to unite the Preserve holdings and a contiguous, undivided land mass. Since negotiations were slow, land values had risen, and the $6 million bond wasn’t enough. In October 2000, Town Council approved an increase in Sales Tax of 0.04%. Of that tax increase, 75% was allocated for mountain land use.
A further settlement agreement with MCO Properties in December 2001 allowed the Town to acquire an additional 354 acres for $13.6 million. This increased the Preserve to 740 acres. Additionally, Scottsdale extended its Sonoran Preserve holdings to include 200 acres along the border of Fountain Hills.
Today, the Preserve covers 824 acres. Adjacent to the Preserve borders is Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve and Maricopa County’s McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Together, these three areas provide over 52,000 acres of contiguous Sonoran Desert with limited and shared trail access. The total area is crucial for native wildlife preservation.
SONORAN CONSERVANCY OF FOUNTAIN HILLS
The Sonoran Conservancy is a non-profit organization that continues the same mission it’s had since the beginning: preserving and protecting the views and open land of the McDowell Mountain Preserve. This preservation extends to the Desert Botanical Garden on Fountain Hills Boulevard and the Lake Overlook Trail.
The Sonoran Conservancy supports the Town’s operation and maintenance of these three areas. They also provide recreational and educational opportunities for these natural assets and take action to minimize the impact on the Town’s natural resources in these areas.
The Sonoran Conservancy sponsors a variety of hikes. In addition to traditional daytime, exercise, and interpretive hikes, they also offer Scorpion Hunt Night Hikes with Ranger Amy Burnett and Stargazing Hikes with Vicky Derksen and the Star Dudes. The hikes that make up the annual Fountain Hills Hiking Challenge are on Preserve Trails.
For more information about events, visit https://www.scfh.org/events .
The Adero Canyon Trailhead opened in November 2018, even though work on the trails began in the Preserve fifteen years earlier. A group of trail building and maintenance volunteers known as the Trailblazers started with the Overlook Trail and Easy Trail. Nearly ten miles of Preserve trails have been hand-built by the Trailblazers. They also maintain the Town’s Lake Overlook Trail and the Desert Botanical Garden trails along Fountain Hills Boulevard.
HOSTS & STEWARDS
The Conservancy has about fifty volunteers who serve as trailhead hosts and stewards. They ensure that all visitors to the Preserve and hikers have safe and enjoyable experiences. The hosts welcome visitors to the Adero Canyon Trailhead and educate them about hiking options. Stewards lead and support guided hikes.
For more information about volunteering, visit https://www.scfh.org/volunteer-groups .
DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN
The Desert Botanical Garden is a local jewel. Conceived by Jane Haynes, this short trail will show you a hidden oasis right in the middle of Fountain Hills. Jane Rouscup gives a beautiful tour of the garden and the trail in the video below.
You’ll also find some excellent educational material on the website. If you want to support the work of the Sonoran Conservancy, visit https://www.scfh.org/donate .