San Tan Mountains Regional Park's south finger will not be severed to fund recreation and camping facilities, but it might still be put on ice, a Maricopa County supervisor said Friday.
Supervisor Don Stapley, R-District 2 of Mesa, said the county has scrapped the idea of selling the park's 1,200-acre tentacle and is now pursuing a deal that would keep it undeveloped, allow limited access and fund park projects without a sale.
Under the new proposal, the county would place a "conservation deed restriction" on the land, which would prevent any development such as a proposed mountain bike track. The track would likely be moved to the nearby north finger, officials have said.
In exchange, the Gila River Indian Community would fund "mutually agreeable parks, trails and other joint projects" with gaming revenue. No financial details have been worked out, but Stapley suggested that a realistic amount would be about $1 million each year for 20 years.
"Compared to $8 million over five or six years, it's a better deal," he said.
Stapley said concerns about the value of the original $8 million sale proposal prompted him and Supervisor Fulton Brock, R-District 1 of Chandler, to come up with a more creative solution.
The arrangement would include hiking access to the south finger, but no equestrian, biking, camping or other uses. The Gila River community also would be able to identify sensitive sites in other areas of the park to be protected.
Gila River officials could not be reached for comment late Friday, but Stapley said the county met with them earlier that day and they appeared receptive to the idea.
"The Gila River community's objective all along was to keep the area clear from development," and that will still happen, Stapley said.
Maricopa County's announcement in late June that the county-owned land was up for sale unleashed a tempest in the form of negative news coverage and scathing letters from elected officials — particularly those in Gilbert.
Gilbert Town Councilman Steve Urie initially called the sale proposal a "slap in the face," because the county did not include the public or park stakeholders in the negotiations.
Urie said Friday that he sees the new plan as a step in the right direction — with some qualifications.
"I'm cautiously optimistic about this," Urie said, "but the devil's in the details, and we have yet to see the details."
Stapley said the agreement could take months to iron out, but he hopes the Board of Supervisors will agree to move forward with approving an updated master plan for the park, which East Valley municipalities contributed $145,000 to last year along with matching funds from the county.
The park, which is located in Pinal County but managed by Maricopa County, has seen few improvements over the years, although perimeter fencing is under way and a visitor center is planned for the near future.
Many park-area residents have said they do not want the county to build a mountain bike track near their homes, but they don't want to lose access to the area either.
Alden Rosbrook, president of the park preservation group San Tan Mountains Pride, said he was excited about the proposed compromise.
"I feel better about our county supervisors — that's for sure," Rosbrook said.