Efforts to decide the fate of public land atop one of the north East Valley’s most prominent natural landmarks are at a standstill.
Negotiations for a transfer of 250 acres at the summit of Black Mountain from Maricopa County to Cave Creek and Carefree are deadlocked over the issue of providing public access to the peak.
The 3,400-foot mountain with scenic boulder formations and cactus-studded slopes sits just north of Scottsdale’s boundary along Carefree Highway. About 175 acres of the summit tract are in Carefree, the remainder is in Cave Creek.
The county has been caretaker of the land for about 30 years under an agreement with the federal Bureau of Land Management. Carefree and Cave Creek officials are seeking to take over, reasoning that local control will better ensure preservation of the land as open space.
But county officials don’t want to give it up unless the towns agree to open access to the peak, which is surrounded by privately owned parcels.
Cave Creek and Carefree town councils left the access issue out of their transfer proposal. The towns’ leaders are faced with a community strongly divided on the idea of a mountainside trail, said Cave Creek Mayor Vincent Francia.
Critics say it would infringe on the privacy and property rights of mountainside landowners and threaten fragile terrain on the slopes by luring throngs of hikers.
"It’s troublesome for us to agree to release that land if it would be only a private back yard for residents on the mountain. We don’t want a transfer that shuts down the possibility of the land becoming a public amenity,’’ said Laurel Arndt, chairwoman of the county parks commission.
The towns have legal authority that the county doesn’t have to open up a trail route by activating existing federal easements on the mountain, Arndt said.
Francia said it would be better for one or both towns to put in a trail because they could opt to develop only a narrow foot path that would have little impact on the mountainside. The county would have to follow regional trail standards requiring a much wider path, he said.