Saguaro National Park officials have voiced their opinion that they are opposed to development of the land across from Rincon Mountain entrance. The opposing opinion to the proposal of development hinges on the fact that it is in close proximity to the park, and is simply too close. This opposition raises an interesting question regarding national park land, “should there be a development buffer zone around national parks?” The question is going to be debated heavily from both standpoints, with examples of West Yellowstone at Yellowstone and Gatlinsburg at the Sugarlands entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park being used s examples. In the example of Saguaro National Park, the potential development of the 45 acres of land across from the Rincon Mountain District is deemed by opposition as far too close.
There are many examples of development happening within walking or short driving distance of national parks nationwide. The development of Bar Harbor is within steps of Acadia National Park in Maine, the development of West Glacier is on the western border of Glacier National Park in Montana, Three Rivers Development is next to Sequoia National Park in California and Royal Front Development is steps from the northern entrance of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. In the majority of cases of development near national parks, the towns were established previous to the national park.
At Saguaro, the disputed area is known as Bike Ranch development, and the opposing viewpoint is to preserve open space around the entrance to the Rincon Mountain District. The property is located in the Pima County Buffer Overlay Zone, which preserves and protects the open space characteristics within one mile of public preserves, according to park staff.
At the Pima County Hearing Administrator in May the proposal of development was strongly opposed by officials. At the meeting, the land owners proposed the Bike Ranch resort. This proposal included 49 units, training facilities, retail space, and a restaurant. The plan now being proposed includes an additional seven home sites on the western half of the property.
“Saguaro National Park is charged with ensuring the protection of natural and cultural resources, and providing quality visitor experiences for all visitors,” said Saguaro Superintendent Darla Sidles. “The park is concerned that the amount of development, density, and traffic of the proposed Bike Ranch is incompatible with the surrounding area’s rural residential character, however we are willing to work with the county, neighbors, and land owners to identify alternatives.”
Safety concerns due to traffic near the park entrance are the primary discussion, as well as impacts to wildlife corridors surrounding the park. In addition, the protection of dark night skies is cited as a concern. Officials are also worried that this case may be used to allow for encroachment of other national park areas.
The bicycling community is being discussed in the case of Bike Ranch. The park welcomes recreational cycling in and around Saguaro National Park, and infrastructure improvements have been made in recent years to serve bicycling community. The Hope Camp Trail has been added as a multiple-use trail, as well as a park entrance rest location for bicyclists. Filling stations for reusable water bottles have been added in the rest area, and safety feature have been added to the historic loop road to better handle bike traffic. 2012 shows that the park welcomed over 24,000 bicyclists.
“We understand and appreciate the concept of the Bike Ranch. At the same time, the National Park Service is mandated to ensure the protection of park resources and provide for a quality experience for all visitors,” the superintendent said. The discussion is ongoing between park officials and land owners, and at this point the issue has yet to be decided. Tours of Saguaro National Park as well as other national park tours will be impacted by this decision, we encourage concerned people to voice their opinion on the matter.