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Non-profit celebrates 20 years of successes in preserving the Superstition Wilderness

Open-mindedness aids goal of preserving land

By Maria Polletta The Republic | - Sunday, March 10, 2013 11:47 PM 

When Rosemary Shearer first caught the desert-preservation bug, cactuses and stars still ruled near her home by the base of the Superstition Mountains.

“At that time, the
re were only maybe 300 people living out here,” the Gold Canyon resident said. “Then, all of a sudden, plans were coming in for huge developments with hundreds of homes on them. This was an area that had not been touched before, so we were concerned.”

As creeping urban sprawl threatened to swallow sensitive swaths of desert, Shearer teamed up with conservation buff Anne Coe, eventually forming the Superstition Area Land Trust (SALT).

​Over the next two decades the Superstition Area Land Trust expanded its mission beyond its initial goal of saving state trust land.

“As it turned out, there was so much more to it,” said Shearer, who now serves as an advisory-board member after stepping down as Superstition Area Land Trust’s executive director.

​“So much of it has been education and communication: education of developers or education of landowners about not planting water-intensive landscapes,” she said. “You always have to be leaving that door open for new potential opportunities.”

That open-mindedness has allowed the organization to tackle new projects as they have arisen, even if they were not part of the Superstition Area Land Trust’s original plan.

One of its earliest efforts, under former president Charles Backus, was the establishment of a land-use plan to guide development in the area.

“It’s an exquisite plan. It does not eliminate development completely, but it does say where it should be and what the density should be and how some open space and washes would be saved,” said Coe, also an advisory-board member now. “The county (Pinal) actually adopted that plan for our area, so that was really quite a coup for us.”

During the prerecession development boom, the Superstition Area Land Trust served as a sounding board while highways, roads and other infrastructure were designed.

The  Superstition Area Land Trust also has pulled together teams of volunteers and specialists to design and carve out wilderness trails. The roughly 11-mile Lost Goldmine Trail, which connects with Jacob’s Crosscut Trail at Lost Dutchman State Park, opened in 2001.

The  Superstition Area Land Trust was behind the restoration of the trail at Silly Mountain, near U.S. 60 in Apache Junction. Where all-terrain vehicles once trampled the vegetation, hikers and cyclists of all ages now use the wheelchair-accessible path framed by blooming desert flowers in the spring.

​Shearer said both projects pushed the community to take pride in the area.

​“We had so many volunteers, they were tripping over each other,” Shearer said. “When people feel a sense of ownership, of community, they tend to take care of things.”

One of the organization’s more recent projects is the rehabilitation and preservation of the 78-acre Tony Ranch, purchased in 2008 under an agreement requiring the Superstition Area Land Trust to conserve the “unique cultural and biological resources located there,” including a historic cabin.

“Tony Ranch is a little more remote (than other Superstition Area Land Trust projects). We’re going to have some remediation things that need to be done, and there are some endangered species out there,” said Tom McDonald, Superstition Area Land Trust past president.

“We could see partnering with colleges to use it as a training facility, do re-vegetation projects,” he added. “We also envision working closely with the Boy Scouts, who are just chomping at the bit to get up there and help us.”

Also in the works is a learning center on a 5-acre, Superstition Area Land Trust-owned outpost off of Peralta Road.

“I think that’s going to be our big push in the coming years: to get that outpost property up and running, where we can hold events out there and start bringing the public out, and the stakeholders and Pinal County folks,” McDonald said. “Anybody that can help us in our mission, we can get them out there.”

​Most important, the Superstition Area Land Trust will continue to serve as a mediator as the area’s future is planned and debated, Coe said.

“That’s what I liked about starting this land trust: It wasn’t an environmental group where it was, ‘We’re against you,’ and ‘We like you,’” she said. “We’re getting everybody at the table."

​“Somebody has to do the ‘I want 100percent’ — that’s the Sierra Club. Then, somebody has to be at the other side, saying, ‘I don’t want to have any’ — that’s traditionally been the mining companies. But thanks to groups like the Superstition Area Land Trust, it’s now the case that people can sit down together and get somewhere. And that’s exciting.”

SALT Celebrates 20 Year Anniversary