Flagstaff purchase of Picture Canyon a 30-year dream come true

2012-10-31T05:10:00Z 2012-10-31T11:57:49Z Flagstaff purchase of Picture Canyon a 30-year dream come trueJOE FERGUSON Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
October 31, 2012 5:10 am  • 

Donald Weaver saw past the rusting hulks of steel, rotting rubber and scattered piles of trash when he first began surveying Picture Canyon in the late 1970s.

An expert on the ancient petroglyphs painted on the canyon walls, Weaver vowed to protect from encroachment not only the rare art but the lush vegetation and the animals that called the unique corridor home.

"It wasn't so pretty back then," he remembered. "There were abandoned vehicles down at the bottom of the canyon. There was trash all over the place. There were old tires down there. There was all kinds of stuff."

Weaver finally was able to see his dreams realized as the city completed the final step Tuesday on a multi-decade journey to keep Picture Canyon out of the hands of private developers.

The city was the sole bidder for the 480-acre parcel offered by the State Land Department at auction, purchasing the property for just under $4.8 million.

In a sea of supporters and city employees, City Manager Kevin Burke donned his Halloween costume from last year -- dressing up as Waldo from popular children's books in order to be seen by the state officials auctioning off the land.

He even brought a bright yellow sign just in case a bidding war erupted for the hundreds of undeveloped acres alongside the canyon.

The land surrounding Picture Canyon has risen in value since the treatment process at the plant was upgraded to A+, or 99 percent treated, several years ago.

The restoration project, which broke ground in 2010, helped to restore the natural course of the stream and enhance the riparian corridor for habitat, recreation and beauty, according to city officials.

Burke's props on Tuesday were unnecessary, with the auction lasting less than two minutes.

The city will use a $2.4 million grant from the Arizona State Parks Department and money remaining from a voter-approved 2004 open space bond to cover the purchase price.

The city handed over a check worth 10 percent of the total price on Tuesday and will pay the remainder to the State Land Department in the next 30 days.

The Land Department, whose auctions benefit education in Arizona, is obligated to get the best price for the land, regardless of use.

The city was not, however, able to buy the entire canyon. A small parcel just east of the Rio de Flag Wastewater Treatment Plant and south of a massive APS utility line has been classified as suitable for development.

Privately owned parcels with houses already border three sides of the environmentally sensitive tract that the city plans to purchase.

A fourth boundary backs up to the city wastewater treatment plant and Interstate 40.

Former Councilmember Nat White can think of only one other property in the 42 years he has lived in Flagstaff that is as important as Picture Canyon: Buffalo Park.

The retired astronomer said that although Picture Canyon may not draw as many visitors as the popular park on McMillan Mesa, it is a valuable asset to teach generations about Flagstaff's past while allowing them to experience its natural beauty.

For Weaver, whose hair has turned white over the decades since he first saw Picture Canyon, the new park is not for him, but the next generation of residents.

"Thirty years of work has finally paid off," he said. "Hopefully by the time I leave this Earth, it will be a major territory for the city's parks division."

Joe Ferguson can be reached at 556-2253 or

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(10) Comments

  1. Crfinaz
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    Crfinaz - July 18, 2013 1:20 am
    Congratulations to the city on a great purchase and thank you for your interest in preserving the land. As an Arizona native, I plan to move from Phoenix to Flag soon and hope to retire there. I love this city and am glad to see that the officials love the land surrounding it. Thank you....
  2. Crfinaz
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    Crfinaz - July 18, 2013 1:17 am
    Freedom is not free, but I tell you what is taxes in Las Vegas. Yes! Hot, dusty, busy and full of people rich with greed for more money. You do have the choice of moving from the lush land of Flagstaff to Las Vegas. Just sayin......
  3. Beadle
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    Beadle - November 07, 2012 3:06 pm
    Congratulations on 30 years of work to preserve this jewel. Seeing Picture Canyon developed would be a terrible black eye to Flagstaff. What is really sad, and says a lot about Flagstaff and Arizona, is that 1) it took this long, and 2) selling this priceless land to just anyone with more money than land stewardship sense was even a consideration. Shame on us for that.
  4. Ringokid
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    Ringokid - November 05, 2012 6:50 pm
    Waste of tax payer money.
  5. Report Abuse
    - November 01, 2012 12:31 pm
    Voters approved the Arizona Growing Smarter grant program in 1998, which sets aside $20 million a year for the grants to acquire state trust lands for conservation and open space. The State Parks Department administers the program.
  6. AZHunter
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    AZHunter - November 01, 2012 12:08 pm
    Anytime the city can buy up precious forest land around our area and preserve it, I'm a big fan! Obviously, I don't want the city to buy the land if it means they have to go beyond their budget, but if it fits in the budget, I think it's great.
  7. LizardDude
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    LizardDude - November 01, 2012 8:56 am
    Picture Canyon, in addition to containing valuable cultural and historic resources, is an important, unique ecosystem in the Flagstaff area. People like WATEVR can only think about their money and how the government is taking it do do evil or unnecessary things like preserve Picture Canyon and, you know, rescue people from massive tropical storms and flooding. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE INVOLVED WITH THE CLEAN-UP, RESTORATION, AND PRESERVATION OF PICTURE CANYON. YOUR WORK IS GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!
  8. prplbeedoo
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    prplbeedoo - November 01, 2012 6:33 am
    Now I'm wondering not WHERE'S Waldo but WHY?
  9. Joseph
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    Joseph - October 31, 2012 10:58 pm
    What I find even more concerning is the 2 million plus from a grant from the AZ State Parks Department? The same department that threatens closure of state parks for lack of funding? Yet a 2 MILLION dollar grant? Nevermind the city and it's mismanagement of tax dollars, what is with the state parks?
  10. WATEVR
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    WATEVR - October 31, 2012 10:31 am
    wow 4.8 million I would figure we are overpaying on our property tax with the city able to spend that kind of money on something we dont need!
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