Andy Lenartz

Ahwatukee resident and community college professor Andy Lenartz recently published a comprehensive guide to South Mountain.

Moadag – or South Mountain – is one of the most sacred sites for Arizona’s four southern tribes.

While 20 Arizona tribes attach some cultural significance to the mountain, it has strong religious significance for the Gila River Indian Community, the Ak-Chin Indian Community, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Andy Lenartz can understand that attachment.

He, wife Tracy and their two daughters, Cicily and Ruby, have pretty much the same attachment.

Now, Lenartz has poured that love into a book devoted exclusively to South Mountain.

“South Mountain Park and Preserve” – part of the Southwest Adventure Series published by the University of New Mexico Press – is as much an homage to the mountain as it is a detailed 125-page guide to its trails, plants and animals.

“Spending time at South Mountain is one of our favorite things to do as a family,” said the Minnesota native, who has lived in Ahwatukee since 2008, 

A psychology professor at Gateway Community College, Lenartz plumbs the South Mountain Park and Preserve in every conceivable way, writing about its history and geology as well as its biology and recreational opportunities.

“This incredible local treasure is the largest municipal park in the United States, a stunning example of the Sonoran Desert environment located right in our backyard,” said Lenartz said, who includes familiar spots and new discoveries in his book. 

The mountain has been an endless magnet for Lenartz and his family, who spend several days a week sampling

its treasures.

“We spend several days a week at the park either hiking, biking, having a picnic, or taking some time to reflect on what is meaningful in life,” he said. “I enjoy spending time volunteering there as a Park Steward.  And I was even able to write portions of the book at the park.”

Lenartz started the book out of another passion, noting that “encouraging people to get outdoors was a significant motivator for me.”

“I have seen clearly – both in research and my own personal experience – the transformative effect that time outdoors can have on our physical and mental well-being,” he explained. 

Plus, he said he “wanted to introduce people to South Mountain Park, this incredible community resource.”

“I have been working to get people connected with nature in a manner that is safe and responsible.  I particularly enjoy helping children and families reconnect with our natural environment. I find watching children develop a love of being outdoors to be immensely fulfilling.

“South Mountain Park was a clear focus for this effort, a place that my family and I have a deep connection to.”

“My intention is that this book will be a guide for users of all levels,” he said, citing his specific sections for newcomers to hiking and South Mountain.

“And there is extensive information on trails, plants, animals, and geology for experienced users.  I am confident every reader will learn something new about the park.”

The first-time author spent a year writing the book and another year going through the editing process with the university press. He said he was able to work out some of his initial ideas through various pieces he has written for the Ahwatukee Foothills News.

“This provided a chance to receive feedback from readers about what worked, what didn’t, and what information they found most helpful,” he said. “I am appreciative to all those who shared their input.”

Still, he admitted, “I had a big learning curve with every step of the process, as this was entirely new to me.”

“I was fortunate to be signed by a publishing company with a talented team of editors and marketing staff who were willing to walk me through the process.  It was a bit of a leap of faith never having done this before, but the excitement of seeing my work in print was worth the time and effort.”

Besides, he considered the entire exercise “more fun than a challenge.”

“I did hike every single trail in at South Mountain Park in a one-year period to create the trail guide portion,” said Lenartz, who also took all but the cover photo for the book.

Lenartz has been both an avid hiker and mountain biker for more than 15 years.

“I had done occasional hikes growing up, but upon moving to Arizona and discovering the Sonoran Desert, these activities became a main focus of my life,” he said. “I absolutely love being outdoors and seek every opportunity I can to spend time in nature.”

He and his family “have hiked and biked all over the state of Arizona and beyond.”

“We all love to travel and have hiked, biked, paddled, and camped in over half of the U.S. states in our explorations,” he added.  “A particular favorite are national parks. We are on a quest to visit all of those in the United States. “

Yet, for all his enthusiasm at discovering new places, he’s left his heart at South Mountain.

“It is a truly unique place and a spectacular outdoor playground right in our backyard,” Lenartz said. “While there are bigger and more extensive mountains, it is the biggest municipal park in the U.S.  It is absolutely incredible that so many people in the nation’s fifth biggest city have easy access to this sprawling natural space.

“South Mountain Park was initially under consideration as a national park when it was established nearly 100 years ago, and we are all so very fortunate to have daily access to this special place.”

The book can be purchased on amazon.com and a number of other sites. 

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