Residents and community groups near San Tan Mountain Regional Park aren’t waiting for the completion of master-planned amenities to make the park their own.
Now that there’s a paved entry area and visitor station for the more than 10,000 acres of mostly untouched desert, groups such as the Friends of the San Tan Mountain Regional Park have begun hosting events to bring people to the park and fundraising for amenities they’d like to see there.
Queen Creek resident Regina Whitman, chairwoman of the Friends group, said she plans events because she wants to see the park "used, not abused." Whitman and the park’s supervisor, Bob Gaulden, hosted a talk earlier this month at the park on living in harmony with desert animals. More educational and social events are planned for early 2006.
Friends vice chairwoman Joan Perry said the group has become very active since it formed this year because there is a lot to be done at the park.
"That park has had so little attention, and there’s so much that it could use," she said.
One of the first things the Friends group says the park needs is a desert tortoise habitat near the entry station.
Perry said the group has a tentative design for a 20-by-30-foot brick-ringed habitat with tortoise dens and an iron fence on top to keep people from disturbing the animals. The Friends would like to be able to adopt three or four desert tortoises that have been injured or removed from their natural habitat.
"Once they’re taken from the desert, for even a short period of time, they cannot be put back," Perry said.
The habitat would help the tortoises that can’t fend for themselves in the desert and provide wildlife for people to watch at the entry station.
"They’re kind of little tanks," Perry said. "They don’t scoot around; they’re very deliberate. I think they’re fascinating."
The Friends of the Park want to complete the habitat by summer 2006, before the tortoises start to hibernate, and are fundraising for it. A photo contest for shots taken of animals, plants or scenery in the park is an upcoming fundraiser. Perry said the winning photos would be compiled in a calendar, sales of which would also benefit the park.
A community fundraiser is also ongoing for a memorial and seating area at the park to be unveiled on Nov. 11, 2006. The memorial will honor a Queen Creek-area Navy corpsman who loved spending time in the park and others who died serving their country. Nathan Martens, 20, died in early September in Qaim, Iraq, in a vehicle rollover.
The Friends of the Park and another community group, San Tan Mountains Pride Association, are partnering in the effort to raise funds for the proposed flagpole memorial and bouldered seating area. Their effort has attracted the attention of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and support from groups such as the Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce, the town’s American Legion Post 129 and the newly formed Queen Creek Jaycees, said Pride President Alden Rosbrook. Design firm Gilmore Parsons has donated its services to the project.
Salt River Project has pledged a donation of a weathered steel pole, which can last more than 100 years, Rosbrook said. The steel would become rust-colored and blend with the desert hues of the area, making the memorial appear, from a distance, as a flag floating on its own in the San Tans.
Events at San Tan Mountain Regional Park
Jan. 14: Full Moon Howl and wildlife talks around a bonfire at dusk. Feb. 18: National Trail Hike Day, a day of hiking with talks on native flora and fauna. Feb. 25: Prehistoric Life Festival, experts on indigenous peoples will give talks and demonstrations. Cost: Attendees pay $1 park entry fee. There may be extra fees for special activities. Information and reservations: (480) 987-3544.