The first of about $10 million in proposed improvements designed to boost Papago Park as a cultural beacon is slated for completion in the fall.
Salt River Project will build three landmark installations at sites along canal trails in Tempe, Scottsdale and Phoenix in or near the 1,600-acre park.
Described as "discovery areas" by SRP project manager Jim Duncan, each 20-by-40-foot site will include a circular rest-stop seating structure providing directional markers and information about the history of the Papago area and local cultural attractions.
The project is part of the the Papago Salado Association’s master plan to add "aesthetic infrastructure’’ to the park, said executive director Debbie Abele.
The association is a joint venture of Tempe, Scottsdale, Phoenix and the utility company. Papago Park stretches across 1,200 acres of Phoenix and 400 acres of Tempe north of Loop 202. Its northeast edge runs along a portion of Scottsdale’s southern boundary. SRP has canals and watertreatment facilities in the park.
The long-range plan calls for gateway features, shade structures, lighting installations, more interpretive installations and recreation facilities, landscaped gardens, public art and pedestrian bridges in and around the park.
The plan includes improvements to an 11-mile loop trail and completion of trail links to attractions in the area, including Tempe Town Lake, the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Historical Society Museum and Pueblo Grande archaeological park.
The overall goal is to make the area "not just another park, but a cultural experience," Abele said.
The Papago area is a center of the ancient Hohokam Indian culture as well as some of the earliest American settlements of the Arizona territory.
"It’s the birthplace of civilization in the Valley, and we need to tell its story," she said.
Future funding is in question because of belttightening by all three cities.
Phoenix cut its funding for Papago Salado by 10 percent this year, and Scottsdale has suspended its financial contributions.
"We expect that to be a temporary situation for 2003 and 2004," said Jeff Kulaga, spokesman for the Scottsdale mayor’s office. "Our support (for Papago Park improvements) remains strong."
Economics will present the biggest challenge to the effort.
With the three cities seeking to expand their economies, "there’s always development pressure," Abele said.
Resident groups such as the North Tempe Neighborhood Association have recently expressed concern about proposals that would open parts of Papago Park to private development.
City governments seem to look at the park only as a valuable piece of real estate, said Barbara Sherman, a member of the group.
The association hopes to gather support from nearby Scottsdale and Phoenix neighborhood groups to fight loss of open space in the park, Sherman said.
Abele said she plans to schedule a meeting this month to facilitate more public dialogue on the Papago Salado plan.
Many of the projects could qualify for grants from environmental conservation and historic preservation foundations, Abele said.
The association has received funding for preservation in the past from the Arizona Department of Transportation and the state Heritage Fund.
Design work on the master plan has been funded in part by a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts under a program for community preservation and restoration.