The Forest Service's Red Rock Country just got a little bigger.

After 2 1/2 years and nearly $4 million, the Forest Service has acquired 88 new acres for its Sedona area lands, creating a buffer zone around a prominent area of cliff dwelling ruins and establishing a right-of-way for one of Sedona's feature trails.

The deed transfer for a portion of what's known as the Hancock Ranch was completed by the end of the day Wednesday, securing the land that border the Honaki Ruins site and including the Loy Canyon Trail.

The Trust for Public Lands, which facilitates purchases of private land to turn over to federal land agencies, spent

$3.95 million to buy the land, located northwest of Sedona.

"The value comes with preserving the character of the land and preventing it from future development," said Judy Adams, who is with the Forest Service and who had involvement with the land purchase. "The Hancock Ranch was one of the high-priority lands we wanted to acquire."

The capture of the 88 acres into federal protection comes as development pressures on private lands in Sedona — a place where golf courses and resorts border wilderness areas — continue to mount.

Charlie O'Leary, the Trust's Arizona project manager, said that the Red Rock district has become a particular challenge, as land values and interests in development continue to increase.

"It is difficult to make this happen in an area popular for development," O'Leary said. "It's happening all over the West. Land values increasing at such an incredible rate."

Still, the Trust serves as a conduit by purchasing the land and then selling it to the Forest Service or other federal agencies. Often, lands like the Hancock Ranch become desirable for public land, but the Trust has a no-pressure policy.

"We only work with willing sellers, we're not trying to pressure anyone into a solution they're interested in," O'Leary said.

The owners of the Hancock Ranch, however, were cooperative, according to O'Leary. For a number of years, Forest Road 795 has run through a mile of the property. And as Honaki Ruins has become a popular attraction, more people have been driving through the private property.

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Now, with the acquisition and some realignment of the road, it's been moved completely into Forest Service land, Adams said. The purchase also brings more of the Loy Canyon Trail into the Forest Service. The federal agency further acquired the right-of-way for the small section of trail that runs through the private section.

The Hancock Ranch marks the Trust's sixth project with the U.S. Forest Service in the Red Rock area of the Coconino National Forest. Funding for the project came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund with the strong support of U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl and the U.S. Rep. Bob Stump, who has since died.

As the project progressed, U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Flagstaff, continued support for this conservation project.

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— Arizona Daily Sun

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