Historical status for scenic drive would be win-win for city
Usually, something bad has to happen before action is taken. In 2013, Scottsdale has the opportunity to be different. The Desert Foothills Scenic Drive is celebrating its 50th birthday and is finally being enhanced using bond funds approved by voters in 2000 — these are good things. Let’s celebrate by designating the Drive as historic.
The Drive, stretching along the northern reaches of Scottsdale Road from Happy Valley Road to Carefree Highway, is an important part of Scottsdale’s cultural heritage. Established in 1963 by residents, it draws attention to many of the things that Scottsdale values: desert preservation, tourism, community service, education and economic vitality.
By identifying a section of its signature highway as being historically significant, Scottsdale will be making an emphatic and obvious statement about the importance of its desert environment. The Drive was one of the first roads, if not the first, in Maricopa County to have a scenic vision established. The goal was to create something special that could be enjoyed by current and future generations. It was a forerunner of scenic corridor programs in the Valley of the Sun. Adding the Drive to the historic register will increase the prestige of Scottsdale’s scenic corridors.
The Drive was created to encourage tourism, Scottsdale’s most important industry. Designating the Drive as “historic” adds appeal and draws attention to the city’s long-standing interest in preservation and tourism.
Since its creation, the Drive has offered a convenient way for visitors to see and identify a variety of desert plants. Redwood signs identify plant species found in the foothills. A small park with picnic tables and restrooms was established by Maricopa County for visitors “doing the drive.” Today, the exhibit area provides information about Drive history, desert flora, fauna, and climate. The area, in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve adjacent to Scottsdale Road, could someday serve as an access point to [McDowell Sonoran] Preserve.
It’s a credit to our community that the Drive has survived five decades of change. Creating and maintaining the Drive has required thousands of volunteer hours and the steadfast commitment of local governments.
Scottsdale residents have conducted innovative projects, such as painting utility boxes and posts to blend into the environment, to enhance the Drive.
Inclusion in the historic register will strengthen the appeal of Scottsdale retail centers and businesses near Scottsdale Road, including the Heard Museum North, el Pedregal, the Boulders Resort and MacDonald’s Ranch. The designation will encourage sensitive development.
In 2000, Scottsdale voters approved the $31.5 million bond program for enhancement of Scottsdale Road and the Scottsdale Road Scenic Corridor; $7.5 million was allocated for the Drive. Work is just beginning to bury remaining above-ground utility lines and poles, strengthen roadside vegetation and beautify selected intersections.
Now, 50 years after the Drive’s inception, is the perfect time for Scottsdale to demonstrate its continuing commitment to it by designating it as a historical roadway.
Les Conklin is a founder of Friends of the Scenic Drive and has served on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission, Scottsdale Pride Commission and the board of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.