Hiking trails built in South Mountain won’t be destroyed by the South Mountain Freeway but many hikers fear they will never be the same.
The city of Phoenix built trail heads at the end of Chandler Boulevard in 2010 which take hikers along the ridge of the Gila Range on the western portion of the park. The Bursera and Gila Trails will be close to the freeway if it is taken through South Mountain but the trails will not be severed.
“We’ve met with ADOT several times in the past and the alignment of the freeway doesn’t impact any of our trails,” said Jarod Rogers, trails coordinator for the city of Phoenix. “It’s at the far extreme western end of the park and we don’t have trails in the area or under the path of the freeway.”
Rogers said many people might believe that the freeway is going through the South Mountain 620 lands but the 620 lands will not in fact be impacted because the alignment places the freeway through an extreme western portion of the mountain.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Draft Environmental Impact Study, 0.9 miles of freeway will pass through South Mountain Park Preserve taking up approximately 31.3 acres of land, which is less than what was originally planned for in 1988. That represents 0.2 percent of total South Mountain Park Preserve parkland.
“ADOT makes a very simple mathematical statement,” said Jim Jochim, treasurer of an Ahwatukee non-profit, Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children. “I’m going to make an analogy. That’s like a lady going in for a physical. The doctor tells her she’s two tenths of one percent pregnant. You’re either pregnant or you’re not pregnant. They’re either going to destroy the South Mountain or they won’t destroy it. This is permanent. It can never be changed.”
The Sierra Club, Phoenix Mountain Preservation Council and the Save Our Mountains Foundation have all come out strongly against cutting through South Mountain for the freeway for several reasons. The Sierra Club is supporting a no-build.
“I think the DEIS is most deficient in what it doesn’t say,” said Susanne Rothwell of the Save Our Mountains Foundation during a public hearing put on by ADOT regarding the freeway. “It does say this freeway will be an economic benefit for Phoenix. What it doesn’t say is Phoenix has people and companies relocating here because of our beautiful weather and outdoor lifestyle. If you take away the heart of our preserve system by chopping into the southwest ridges of South Mountain Park we believe that will be a huge negative.”
Rothwell said the DEIS mentions trails in the area but states that trails more than a quarter of a mile away from the freeway will not be affected.
“As a hiker myself I can tell you that’s not true,” she said. “Who will want to hike in a park where there’s a huge eight-lane freeway cut through the ridges?”
A spokesperson for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department said while the freeway would be visible from some hiking trails in South Mountain Park that’s not unusual for the Valley.
“If you’re trying to put this in a broader context, the other highways visible from trails in the Phoenix Desert Preserve system include the 51 and I-10,” said David Urbinato public information officer for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. “The 51 is visible from a large number of trails in the Phoenix Mountains Park including the Piestewa Peak Summit Trail, the Quartz Ridge Trail, Trail 100 and many others that depart from the Dreamy Draw area. Trail 100 actually crosses below the 51 via a tunnel. The I-10 freeway also is visible from some trails on the eastern end of South Mountain. People like ridgeline and summit trails because they offer good views of the Valley. In some places, the views include major roadways.”
The Phoenix Mountain Preservation Council will be taking a tour of the affected area on Saturday, May 25. The group will be meeting at the intersection of 51st Avenue and Dusty Lane at 7:45 a.m. A Phoenix Park Ranger will be showing the group the ridges that will be affected by the proposed freeway. The meeting is meant to inform the group of the scope of the problem so they can better plan how to address it. For more information visit phoenixmountains.org or saveourmountains.org.
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