Fewer than 12 Scottsdale residents made up the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust when it formed 14 years ago to advocate preservation of the McDowell Mountains.
The city has since acquired most of the mountain range for its McDowell Sonoran Preserve and wants to more than double its protected open space system by expanding it across almost 20,000 acres to the north.
The land trust has been expanding accordingly, in membership and the range of its activism, and is poised for a boom year.
The nonprofit expects to soon top 1,000 duespaying members, add significantly to its cadre of about 100 trained preserve stewards and as much as double last year’s 7,000-plus hours of volunteer work helping the city protect, maintain and enhance the preserve.
"What they’re accomplishing is amazing," said Diane Wendt, a Gilbert resident and corporate business consultant who recently signed on part-time as the land trust’s first director of program and volunteer development.
"I was drawn to this because these people are passionate. They love what they are doing and they give 100 percent," said Wendt, whose family for generations has been involved in wetlands conservation in Southern California.
Her expertise is in guiding companies and organizations through transition and growth.
The land trust board of directors decided that with all that’s on the group’s agenda it was time to get some professional help, said executive director Carla (her legal name).
The project list includes extensive trail-building in the next several years, and offering more nature appreciation programs for schoolchildren and free guided hikes for the public.
The land trust is partnering with the Center for Native and Urban Wildlife based at Scottsdale Community College to revegetate parts of the preserve.
It also will continue to advocate for reform of the state land trust system in the hope it will aid Scottsdale in acquiring tracts of state land for the preserve.
Then there is the issue of additional power transmission stations that Arizona Public Service Co. says it will need to build in Scottsdale to keep up with the north East Valley’s growth.
The land trust is determined to ensure that power facilities don’t encroach in any environmentally detrimental way on the preserve, Carla said.
The group will join the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau and other business interests to seek support for a visitors center, natural history museum and Sonoran Desert education facility envisioned for the planned main gateway to the preserve.
In addition to training more preserve stewards, the land trust will educate volunteers for a new role as "pathfinders," Carla said.
They’ll be stationed at trailheads to help hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians get a quality recreational experience.
Their job will be critical to the land trust’s overriding goal of maintaining positive public sentiment for preservation, Carla said.
Scottsdale voters last year approved a second sales tax increase to fund the city’s preserve effort. But it won by a slim margin compared with several other preserve expansion and funding ballot propositions that passed by big majorities in years past.
Some critics cited lack of public access as reason for growing opposition to additional preservation funding.
So the land trust is focusing on "friend-raising," Wendt said. That means such things as helping the city make progress on providing trails and amenities at access areas, and keeping preserve users from any conflict with nearby neighborhoods while still promoting more use.
"We want to get more people out there so they can feel this is their preserve," Carla said. "We want them to understand that we’re trying to save what makes everyone love this place."