Phoenix parks board to vote on South Mountain Park improvements

PHOENIX – City officials and residents have worked for years to solidify plans to improve South Mountain Park. And they’re finally ready to begin work on $23 million worth of improvements.

The city held seven public meetings last year to gather information on how to better balance the needs and wants of the community with preserving the park and trails for future use.

Workers will likely begin work on trails in May if the parks and recreation board gives its final approval Thursday, parks spokesman Gregg Bach said.

The park has more than 50 miles of designated trails on its 16,000 acres, and it’s one of the largest municipally operated parks in the country, according to The Trust for Public Land.

Millions of people use the park’s trails every year. Some hikers stick to official trails, but others use unofficial ones, which aren’t always safe for hikers or the environment. This constant usage – along with flooding during monsoon season – often causes erosion of trails and damage to signage.

The department plans to make some of those “unofficial” trails official, but it also will remove some trails and revegetate those, Bach said. If approved, some trails will face temporary closures during the next five years.

Forty one million people use South Mountain Park’s trails every year. Some of the signs show wear. (Photo by Saeed Alshamisi/Cronkite News)

Joaquin Rios, chief of staff to Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego, said the park holds special meaning to many residents.

“It’s the place where people have birthday parties,” he said. “It’s the place where people will have special occasions. I know people who’ve gotten married in South Mountain Park.”

For the past two years, city staff has been working to conceptualize and develop a budget based off a 1989 master plan.

The voter-approved Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative, which sets aside 1 cent of sales tax for every $10 of purchases, will fund the improvements.

Linda Schwarez from New York said her first experience hiking in South Mountain park was “awesome.”

“It’s not too stressful,” she said. “We’re kind of on a short hike today, so we wanted to do like maybe a 2-mile hike, and this was perfect.”

Although many hikers like Schwarez are satisfied with the park, some local residents are looking forward to the improvements.

“I support any updates, any improvements to the park that will include safety and just bettering the experience for all hikers,” said Ashley Cross, a Gilbert resident and frequent hiker.

The plans also call for improvements to bathroom facilities and the park’s front guardhouse.

The department will release information on trail closures after the board approves the plan, Bach said.