Phoenix punches below its weight on almost category compared with its peers. But it has one amenity that places it above nearly every other big city: the mountain preserves and parks. They are a majestic and defining accomplishment.
The city has about 37,000 acres, or 58 square miles, of mountain preserves and parks. These range from South Mountain Park and Papago Park to the Phoenix Mountains Preserve and the Sonoran Preserve in far north Phoenix.
This also inspired suburbs, especially Scottsdale with its McDowell Sonoran Preserve. As I write, this is the subject of a big fight over Proposition 420, which would allow a tourist center — and potentially other development — to be built in this pristine land. Scottsdale preservationists are wise to be on guard. Phoenix's experience shows that saving the mountains didn't come easy — and is always at risk.
Preservation began with two federal initiatives. First was the Papago Saguaro National Monument, established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 at the urging of Rep. Carl Hayden (Hayden actually wanted a National Park). Second came the Coolidge administration's sale of the 13,000 acres of the future South Mountain Park to the city in 1925, again with the urging of Hayden, by then a Senator. Phoenix paid $17,000 ($248,000 in today's money) for the ranges of what were then known as the Salt River Mountains and surrounding desert.