Hidden Letters to the Editor: The Scenic Drive

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.

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  1. I remember running on part of the Scenic Drive in 1979 as a participant in the former Fiesta Bowl Marathon.

    What a beautiful December 1st that was. The race started on Dynamite about two miles west of Scottsdale Road on a sunny but chilly 40 degree morning. We ran east to Scottsdale Road and then south to Frank Lloyd Wright, then east to two lane Pima Road and south to the finish at Scottsdale Community College.

    I lived in Kansas City at the time so the run down Scottsdale Road was a different and beautiful sight. It was just a two lane desert road to many of the local runners with its many dips caused by the washes but to me it was exciting and charming stuff.

    I’ll always remember how beautiful and peaceful Chauncey’s horse farm looked with the horses just giving us a casual wink as we ran by. That was at about 6 1/2 miles from the finish and how I envied those horses!

    Remembering Chauncey’s farm compared to the madness that exists in that area today with the 101 and its accompanying traffic and noise is reason enough to back any plan to save the Scenic Drive from such a fate. They call car dealerships and shopping centers “progress” and I guess they are in a business sense but it’s just as important to save an area that was here and pristine long before cars and McDonald’s existed.

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