Catalina State Park: Still a community treasure after 30 years - Tucson Local Media: News

Catalina State Park: Still a community treasure after 30 years

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Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 4:00 am

Its been 30 years since Catalina State Parks opened in the Coronado National Forest north of Oro Valley.

From the rolling hills of poppies in the spring time to the luscious Catalina Mountains views year-round, residents have been enjoying the natural treasure for many years.

Besides enjoying the views, visitors take advantage of the hiking and biking trails found throughout the 5,500-acre park.

And example is one Oro Valley couple’s goal to hike 10,000 miles. Bob and Leslie Esparza reached that goal earlier this year, using the nearby trails at Catalina State Park to help rack up those miles.

Nearby resident Rick Metcalf has also reveled in the  beauty of the hiking trails throughout the park, using the services to reach his goal of hiking two miles a day in 2012.

While Catalina State Park is enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors today, to become an official state park wasn’t an easy process.

Efforts to make it a state park began in the 1970s, turning into a 10-year campaign by local residents, state politicians and community activists. The group worked to mobilize support to defeat a proposal by developer John Ratliff who wanted to rezone the Rancho Francisco Romero area east of Oracle Road in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains to build a housing development for a projected 17,000 residents.

Tucson Representative Charles King was an early champion of Catalina State Park. Interestingly, the Arizona State Parks Board was not and voted against the establishment of a state park at Rancho Romero at its December 10, 1973 meeting. Despite this opposition, Representative King persisted and introduced House Bill 2280 calling for the establishment of Catalina State Park. Governor Jack Williams signed it into law on May 1, 1974.

Although a milestone event in the history of the park, it would be another nine years before Catalina State Park was dedicated on May 25, 1983.

Coalition groups launched a successful petition drive, collecting more than 3,700 signatures and garnered enough popular support to secure passage of a $4.5 million bond issue in 1974 – money that was used in part to buy 2,071 acres of Rancho Romero and 583 acres of the Rail N Ranch.

Although there has not been a Romero Ranch at Catalina State Park for many years, there is still a Romero Canyon Trail that leads to Romero Pools – and a Romero Ruin. They are all named for Francisco Romero who built a cattle ranch more than 100 years ago on top of the ancient ruins of a Hohokam Indian site. Romero’s grandson remembers that his grandfather lived “in a more or less constant state of warfare with the Apaches” who regularly stole his cattle. Although he and his wife Victoriana eventually left their ranch and moved to Tucson, visitors can still see the remains of the home where they once lived. It is part of the 15-acre Romero Ruin – one of the largest archaeological sites in the Tucson area.

Romero Ruin is not the only interesting archaeological find at the park. In 1949, a hunter stumbled across a jar filled with more than 100,000 stones and beads. He also discovered 30 copper bells from central Mexico. These are among the many treasures at the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Other discoveries remain at the Park including hundreds of petroglyphs.

Catalina State Park has a significant economic impact on Pima County. People who visit and camp at the Park patronize many local businesses.  They also visit other sites in the area. A 2009 report by Northern Arizona University estimated that the Park created 262 jobs in Pima County.

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