The Conservancy began as a grass-roots organization committed to preserving the McDowell Mountains and surrounding Sonoran Desert.

Early supporters of the Preserve understood that volunteers could protect this living treasure.

What Trail Led Us Here

The following information is a brief history of the organization from our founding in 1991.


The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy incorporates as a non-profit 501(c)3 and joins the Land Trust Alliance, a worldwide land conservation movement. 


The Conservancy begins a newsletter called “Mountain Lines,” offers free hikes into the areas identified for inclusion in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and launches a fourth-grade education program entitled “Our McDowell Sonoran Heritage.”


Scottsdale formally dedicates the initial McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which consists of three parcels of land totaling approximately 5 square miles.


Activities designed to gain public support for the envisioned Preserve continue, including the proclamation of the first “McDowell Sonoran Week” highlighting events to celebrate our unique environment. Voters approve a sales tax for preservation by 64%!


The Conservancy begins a trail building program that trains volunteers for work in the Preserve.


The Conservancy hires its first staff member, a full time Executive Director, Sandy Bahr.


In partnership with Scottsdale Community College, the Conservancy begins the “Preserve Steward” program to train volunteers to be caretakers of the Preserve.


Carla (full legal name) becomes the Conservancy's second Executive Director.


The Conservancy becomes a key part of the Arizona movement to change the laws in order to facilitate conservation of State Trust Lands.


Scottsdale voters approved an additional .15% increase in the sales tax for land acquisition and for access area amenities helping to ensure that the McDowell Sonoran Preserve will be one of the largest urban preserves in the country. The Preserve will be larger than Tempe and Paradise Valley combined.


Ruthie Carll becomes the Conservancy’s third Executive Director.


The LEED Platinum Gateway Trailhead opens. The Conservancy creates a barrier-free nature trail at the Gateway and donates the amenity to the Preserve.  The Bajada Nature Trail provides access to those with mobility challenges.


The McDowell Sonoran Field Institute, a research program of the Conservancy, launches a baseline inventory of the flora and fauna of the Preserve.


The Conservancy celebrates our 20 year anniversary with a Founders’ Day celebration and hike in the Preserve, special programming throughout the year, and a community breakfast to showcase our service to the community. Mike Nolan joins the organization as Executive Director.


The Conservancy had another high-growth year as it continued to assist its partners at the City in stewarding the Preserve.  Early in 2012, Scottsdale added 4,410 acres to the Preserve and further added 6,393 by the end of 2012.  The Preserve, already one of the largest urban preserve in America, now encompasses about 47 square miles, one quarter of Scottsdale’s land area.


To serve the growing Preserve, the Conservancy trained 133 new stewards (a 50% increase over the preceding year) which helped to surpass 500 active stewards.  Stewards devoted almost 40,000 hours to patrolling and maintaining trails, welcoming visitors, and educating the community through hikes, outreach programs, school tours and other key activities.

The Brown’s Ranch Trailhead was dedicated and the trail system was expanded.

The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy Field Institute completed the first-ever biological inventory of the plants and animals of the Preserve, a three-year effort funded by the Pulliam Trust.


The Preserve's second barrier-free trail, the Jane Rau Interpretive Trail, opened at the Brown's Ranch Trailhead.

The Conservancy wins a Crescordia Award in environmental education. This prestigious state-wide recognition specifically cited the Conservancy's Field Institute and its citizen-science efforts.


To support the growing Preserve, the Conservancy expanded its volunteer base to nearly 600 active stewards. They contributed a record 56,000 hours to the Preserve effort during the year.

The Field Institute completed an Ecological Resource Plan for the Preserve, articulating a long term vision for protecting the Preserve's natural resources.

In October, the Field Institute held its first research symposium at Scottsdale Community College, in partnership with that schools Center for Native and Urban Wildlife. The symposium resulted in new partnerships and research ideas that will directly benefit the Preserve and the greater Phoenix area.