A Vision For Mountain Parks and
establishment of Tucson Mountain Park in 1929 marked the beginning
of an unparalleled
conservation ethic. Two other parks and a natural preserve followed.
Ironwood Forest National Monument and Las Cienegas National Conservation
Area were established in 2000. Even so, we have not yet assembled
a system that protects groups of plants and animals. We must
expand our efforts at creating mountain parks to sustain biological
diversity in the Sonoran Desert and provide recreation for our
Mountain Parks and Natural Preserves
Pima County’s mountain
parks and natural preserves play an important
and diverse role in the life of the community
Pima County, Arizona’s
extraordinary and unique natural resources have drawn visitors
and residents to the area for decades. Mountain
parks and natural preserves have always played an important and
diverse role in the life of the community. These areas will be
expanded with the development of the Sonoran Desert Conservation
Plan through the design and implementation of a comprehensive open
space parks and reserve system.
The Resource Base
Pima County’s mountain parks and natural preserves consist
• Tucson Mountain Park which was established in 1929 and adjoins
Saguaro National Park.
• Tortolita Mountain Park, acquired after voters authorized bonds
in 1986 and slated for further expansion.
• Colossal Cave Mountain Park, established in 1992 with the initial
acquisition of the Posta Quemada Ranch, and later expanded to 1,800
Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, Pima County’s first natural
• Buehman-Bingham Natural Preserve.
Recent community-based initiatives have inspired conservation
efforts at the local and national level. Action at a scale
that has not
occurred in Pima County since the early part of the century, includes:
The Board of Supervisors’ significant expansion of Tucson
Mountain Park by over 1,500 acres.
• Establishment of the Ironwood Forest National Monument by the President
of the United States in 2000.
• Congressional legislation in 2000 by Congressman Jim Kolbe to create
Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.
Threats to the Resource
The primary threat to the open space resource base is urbanization
and development. Existing reserves are among the most influential
of urban form makers. Development pushes to the edges of the
reserves and spills over into uncommitted land when those limits are reached.
Regardless of the amount of open space that exists across Pima
County, we have not yet assembled a system of parks and preserves
that effectively protects and conserves native species. A continuing
decline in our natural systems indicates that our incremental
approach to conservation over the last 70 years has not been
There are reasons for the mismatch between past preservation
efforts and actual needs. Parks in Pima County and across the
often been created to set aside areas of great beauty, but
plant and animal communities do not make location decisions
aesthetics. Existing parks and preserves are disconnected.
Areas that have been set aside for wildlife protection often
small to support a viable population of the species. Large
animals are becoming extinct within the very parks that were
to protect them.Priority MOUNTAIN PARKS AND NATURAL PRESERVES
The proposed 7,489 acre preserve would assure a link between
the Catalina Mountains and the San Pedro River. It would
the abundant, sensitive riparian plant and animal resources
in the area.
Cienega Creek Natural Preserve
Cienega Creek is one of the most important riparian areas.
It recharges the aquifer and provides flood storage capability
critical value to Tucson. Lands within the preserve are in
excellent condition with exceptional recreational opportunities.
Desert Conservation Plan suggests expansion of the preserve
by 7,293 acres. Protection of Mescal Arroyo, a vital link to
Creek, would add another 1,856 acres.
Santa Rita Mountain Park
The proposed 10,703 acre park would preserve extensive
natural resources and protect endangered species.
Cave Mountain Park
The park has outstanding scenic resources and includes
the 1870s Posta Quemada Ranch. The limestone geology
Park is extraordinary and this area is especially rich in bird
and reptile species. The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan suggests
expansion by 18,974 acres.
Davidson Canyon Natural Preserve
The canyon connects Cienega Creek Natural Preserve and
Coronado National Forest and no other linkage would connect
existing or proposed parks or preserves.
Tucson Mountain Park
Pima County‘s largest and most visited park includes
more than 230 vertebrate species and thousands of invertebrates.
archaeological and cultural resources form a significant cultural
and historical landscape.
Catalina State Park
Expansion of the park by 3,500 acres would establish a
biological corridor linking Coronado National Forest,
the Sutherland Basin,
and Catalina State Park with the Tortolita East Corridor and
the Tortolita Mountains.
Tortolita Mountain Park
The park’s proposed expansion area includes land
suitable for special status wildlife. Significant Hohokam
are part of the cultural resources of the park.
Bedrock outcrops and volcanic hills in the area are unusual
for the number of petroglyph or rock art sites that have been
There is wide variation in the number and complexity of petroglyph
sites, ranging from a handful of simple elements to hundreds
of individual petro-glyphs elements, some of which are very
complex. At the south end of this region of prehistoric settlement
Butte, which is listed in the national register.
A new era for Pima County’s mountain parks and natural
preserves has arrived. Through the Sonoran Desert Conservation
remarkable areas will preserve in perpetuity both the beauty
and long-term sustainability of our resource base.
In the past, federal and local public parks were established
without a full understanding of the relationship between open
species conservation. As currently configured, they do not
sufficiently support interrelated groups of plants and animals.
It was not
until 1985 that scientists in the relatively new field of conservation
biology were able to calculate how the acreage requirements
of wide ranging carnivores had been underestimated.
This applies to parks on a national scale, and it is true in
Pima County as well. Unlike many communities, however, Pima
has the opportunity to assemble an effective reserve system.
We are fortunate to have a number of open space areas, many
connected by riparian linkages. The County’s parks and
preserve system is flexible. The future open space and preserve
system can include
federal, state, and private holdings together with County-owned
land managed at the appropriate level of conservation.
Resources within existing and proposed parks and preserves
have been analysed using current management and planning documents.
The comprehensive biological assessment has shown where connections
between open spaces currently exist. As a result, the Mountain
Parks Element of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan has redefined
proposed preserve boundaries and their management.
The citizens of Pima County are blessed with an abundance of
natural resources, some of which are extraordinary in nature.
parks and natural preserves in Pima County have been and continue
to be threatened, most immediately in areas that are just developing
now or will be in the near future. Protecting these resources
will require long term, region wide planning and cooperation
part of public entities and private citizens.
A variety of conservation strategies employed on different
scales and time frames will be needed to establish a cohesive
park and natural preserve system.
• Expand Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.
• Expand three existing mountain parks: Tortolita Mountain Park,
Colossal Cave Mountain Park, and Catalina State Park.
• Establish Santa Rita Mountain Park.
• Establish two natural reserves, Davidson Canyon and the Buehman-Bingham
• Continue the partnership between Pima County and the Bureau of
Land Management during the implementation process for Ironwood
Parks and Natural Preserves, Map (PDF)
Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan
Pima County Administrator’s Office
130 West Congress, 10th Floor
Tucson, AZ 85701