8 Great Reasons to Create Desert Edge in Scottsdale

November 12, 2017

By Les Conklin

The Greater Pinnacle Peak Association’s Board of Directors has not taken a position on the Desert Edge proposal. This article expresses the author’s personal opinion and not that of the association. In December, I’ll describe the top reasons critics oppose the creation of Desert Edge.

Here are eight great reasons why Scottsdale should create Desert Edge.


1. Forward Looking – The U.S. economy is driven by change. To keep pace and prosper, citizens and cities must invest in, and look toward the future.

2. Product of Our Community – Former Frank Lloyd Wright students, Preserve advocates, several Scottsdale City Councils, interested citizens, civic leaders and aggressive critics have contributed countless hours of thought and effort that have culminated in today’s Desert Edge proposal. I am proud to have witnessed some of this outstanding effort since serving as a member of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission and a board member of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.

3. Showcases McDowell Sonoran Preserve – The location of Desert Edge at the Gateway Trailhead showcases the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert and provides visible proof of the outstanding work of residents to preserve our natural environment.

4. Supports Education – The headquarters of ASU’s Global Dryland’s Institute, the Bajada Trail and thought-provoking, sensitive exhibits, will provide an environment and facility to promote the education of people of all ages and physical abilities. Long ago, Scottsdale’s Florence Nelson began educating inner-city students about the desert. Desert Edge provides a fabulous opportunity for Scottsdale to share its unique landscape, knowledge and experience with students and other visitors.

Promotes Environmentalism – People and companies are becoming increasingly interested in climate change and doing something about it. Desert Edge will provide an opportunity for Scottsdale and ASU to showcase their initiatives in this regard.

6. Unique Visitor Amenity – The firm that designed the 9/11 memorial has designed Desert Edge’s world-class, environmentally-sensitive exhibits. Desert Edge has been located and designed to succeed in an area that has a wealth of visitor venues.

7. Uses Existing Funds – Taxes will not need to be increased to pay for Desert Edge. The time is right to move forward on Desert Edge. None-the-less, I encourage the city not to forget the original Planned McDowell Sonoran Preserve, especially acquiring land to expand a possible link between Scottsdale’s Scenic Drive (Scottsdale Road) and the planned trailhead at Pima Road and Dynamite Boulevard.

8. Encourages Responsible Growth – What happens at the edge of growing cities and what remains of the area’s original natural environment is a concern of residents everywhere. It was a similar concern that led the residents of Maricopa County to establish the Desert Foothills Scenic Drive in 1963. It was that concern that led Scottsdale residents to restore and promote the Desert Foothills Scenic Dive. Moving forward with Desert Edge will demonstrate that the West’s Most Western Town has become a special place for preservation, environmentalism, education, tourism and forward-thinking.

Desert Edge Pavilion Courtesy of Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale



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Author: Les Conklin

Les Conklin is the editor of A Peek at the Peak publications and the author of Images of America: Pinnacle Peak. He is the president of the Greater Pinnacle Peak Association and the Monte de Paz HOA. He founded Friends of the Scenic Drive and has served on the Scottsdale Pride Commission, McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission, and on the boards of several local nonprofits. Les is a resident of north Scottsdale and a member of Scottsdale's History Maker Hall of Fame. Les is a volunteer school tour guide at the Musical Instrument Museum.

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  1. More marketing. They are getting desperate. From the documents we are receiving in our FOIA requests it is clear that they know that the majority is against tearing up the Preserve for a tourist attraction. I also understand that one of the opponents may have been blocked from commenting. If that is true, it is another underhanded way to force this through.

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  2. You are not speaking about any of the reasons people don’t like this project. Too much money, to much costs, new sales tax for 20 years, and its a Preserve. Move it off the Preserve, pay for it with private funds. We bought this land to PRESERVE it.

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  3. 1. Not forward looking. Research shows the vast majority of visitor-serving organizations (science centers, art museums, aquariums, zoos, etc.) are rapidly losing attendance. The next generation doesn’t learn this way; they’re moving toward a virtual reality world. DDCS is building a “dinosaur”, something the world has passed by.
    2. Showcasing the Preserve, Promoting Environmentalism. How does blading acres of pristine desert do this? Let’s see….we’re going to destroy acres of desert to teach people how to protect the desert?
    3. Educational. Don’t need a 50,000 sq ft building to do this. Can use existing facilities and resources, most notably McDowell Sonoran Conservancy programs and stewards. Note: ASU isn’t putting up a dime for the capital costs of their facility ($7 MIL), though they just spent $300 MIL on a football stadium. Why should Scottsdale residents foot the bill for ASU?
    4. All 8 reasons are “touchy feely”. Where are the numbers? Size, cost, projected operating deficit, subsidies required from the City of Scottsdale? Perhaps the numbers aren’t presented here because they’re not very favorable….

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    • Thank you for a well-written comment. Taking the time helps The Peak.

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  4. I love the idea of preserving the Sonoran Desert. I voted for it twice,

    In my opinion, this potential development and the bringing of crowds will be adverse to preservation of the natural, beautiful Sonoran desert.

    Thank you.

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  5. As an over 30 year resident of Scottsdale this is the exact opposite of what Scottsdale needs in our preserve as well as what we should be spending tax dollars on. Pretty sure there is already something like this and it’s called the desert botanical garden…….no Need for our own.

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  6. The concept of educating people about the desert is good, but there are huge downsides to the proposal to do that. For example here are 8 to match your 8 reasons to support it. However these 8 are based on facts, not opinion:
    1. The location couldn’t be worse, not only in the Preserve that we paid for to save the land from being developed, but at the highest use trail head in the Preserve making it even more congested. Already the number of visitors at the Gateway is going down, because it is too crowded, so what happens when we add another 300,000 people a year there?
    2. Yes it woun’t require new taxes because they are raping the Preserve fund we thought would be used to buy more land, and also taking a lot of bed tax dollars that are needed for other tourism venues.
    3. The fact is there has been NO study that shows this “attraction” will bring even one more tourist to Scottsdale so is it worth not buying additional land for the Preserve and depleting our bed tax fund? There was one independent study that claimed it won’t bring more tourists but will drain the city financially. The city has to be responsible for all the financial debt if it is located in the Preserve. BAD DEAL.
    4. ASU is getting labs built in our Preserve at our cost, no cost to ASU. What makes this right?
    5. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy (MSC) already does education AND research in the Preserve at no cost to the city and in full conformance with the Preserve Ordinance. The DDC or DE will hurt the MSC and already has by stealing funding the MSC used to get. We need the MSC to maintain the Preserve, we don’t need the DE.
    6. The DE will violate many of the Rules in the Preserve Ordinance, the ordinance that was to protect the Preserve and prevent it from morphing into a park. BTW even though it was known that the DDC was moved into the Preserve when this ordinance was drafted, there was NO mention of the DDC or even an educational center in the ordinance and no exclusion from the rules for any such use.
    7. There is a huge public resistance building as people learn about it. All the surveys done (at least 5 that I know of including some by the city) show 75 to 95% of the public is opposed to putting it in the Preserve. The MSC has also issued a statement against locating it in the Preserve.
    8. Most of the Preserve founders (Pete Chasar, Greg Woodall, Jane Rau, Carla, and the late Chet Andrews) and former Mayor Manross, are highly opposed to putting the DE in the Preserve.
    I could go on, there is a lot more but the bottom line is this commercial venture doesn’t belong in OUR Preserve. If it is so great either submit it to a public vote or move it outside the Preserve and fund it differently. We shouldn’t destroy our Preserve, and also pay for it without a public vote to allow it or not in the Preserve.

    Yep the facts dispute all 8 reasons. Also do you realize that they intend to use Preserve funds, intended to buy more land for the Preserve, to build it and the city is on the hook for all yearly overruns (can’t use Preserve tax for that). They are destroying the concept of a Preserve, taking money we dedicated to buy land to build it, and using up bed tax revenues to cover operating cost overruns. Also ASU gets free labs at our expense. Great deal.

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    • Great comments Howard. And you didn’t even get into the flaws in the business plan that will cost Scottsdale citizens about $5,000,000 a year.

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    • Thank you for your well-written comment. I know readers respect effort.

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  7. Have you actually been in the preserve? Put on some hiking shoes and go for a nice 3 hour walk through the preserve. You don’t need a “desert center” to appreciate the beauty. It’s already there. This message is coming from someone who has run and hiked every single trail in the preserve. Putting a monstrosity of a building on the preserve goes against everything that it stands for, which is PRESERVATION! If the Navajos can vote not to put a blight on the Grand Canyon, then Scottsdale voters can, too. Let the people vote on it, and see what happens!

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    • Thank you for your well-written comment. Your comment brought to memory my introduction to the land that became the preserve. I was fortunate to enjoy an adventurous jeep ride with Greg Woodall, Carla’s archaeologist brother, in 1994. He explained the vision and we drove from Lost Dog Wash to what is now the Gateway Trailhead, on to what is now the site of the Tom’s Thumb Trailhead and Brown’s Ranch. I had taken a archaeology class at SCC in the recent past and he took me to several archaeology sites. This was just before the first public vote and my being appointed to the Preserve Commission. Sure, I been in the Preserve many times,hiked many of the trails, and know and respect many good people who were involved in creating the preserve.

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  8. I agree that the DE should not be built in the Gateway preserve. When the Gateway opened some years ago it was a pleasure to hike and enjoy. In recent years it has been a hassle with too many hikers, bikers etc and we have moved our hikes to the Brown Ranch trailhead.
    Do we really need another edifice to teach the next generation about the desert? Let them explore the Desert Botanical Garden. Leave the Gateway as it is. and move on.

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