There's a bit of irony in erecting a shady trailside rest area to honor Jack Fraser.
Fellow environmental activists say it was Fraser's refusal to rest in pursuit of preserving undeveloped Sonoran Desert land in the East Valley that made him a pioneer of the local conservation movement.
Two park benches sporting commemorative plaques amid newly planted paloverde trees will be dedicated Saturday in McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills as tributes to Fraser by the McDowell Park Association.
Fraser, 81, founded the grass-roots group a decade ago to fight proposed land swap deals that would have opened a chunk of the 21,000-acre Maricopa County park to development.
As president of the association until 1999 and board member until this year, Fraser led efforts that stopped that idea and a few other proposed park uses advocates considered potentially too disturbing to the natural environment. The successes became a springboard to broader projects that widened preservationists' clout.
“He's never gotten the recognition he really deserves. Jack was one the first people to get involved in things that have led to progress in preservation statewide,’’ said Fay Schlotfeldt, a Rio Verde-area resident and first vice president of the McDowell park group, which has grown to 400 members.
Fraser helped gain support for the Arizona Preserve Initiative, opening the door to conservation of state trust lands. He worked with a state government advisory board to lay groundwork for a program that helps municipalities and conservation groups buy land for preservation.
He advised others on organizing community efforts to preserve open public land, including a group that has prompted local government officials to begin work on a master plan to ensure protection of the county's San Tan Mountain Regional Park near Queen Creek.
Fraser was instrumental in convincing Fountain Hills several years ago to begin establishing a preserve on the town's side of the McDowell Mountains, even though the land was in developers' hands.
The park association now lends its support to the town's 940-acre mountain preserve. It also is leading efforts to preserve about 1,000 acres of state land between Fountain Hills and McDowell Mountain Regional Park and plans to assist Scottsdale in developing trails to link its preserve to the park, said current president Myrna Smith.
Fraser, a World War II veteran, and his wife, Patricia, moved to Arizona in 1982 to retire. But he said he couldn't shake off the environmental bent sparked by almost three decades as a wildlife biologist in California — where he also helped devise several state conservation programs — and eight years managing a regional government environmental protection agency in Australia.
Soon after taking up residence in Fountain Hills, he spotted land surveyors working for developers in the open desert near town.
“I could see problems on the horizon right then,’’ he said.
Had Fraser decided to keep his concerns to himself, said Schlotfeldt, “We wouldn't have the park or preserve we have today. . . . A lot of people deserve credit, but Jack was the ignition.’’