A new future for Picture Canyon


By James Gingerich

The sun shines over Picture Canyon’s serene landscape. (Photo by Holly Mandarich)

Cinder cones rise starkly above the waters of Picture Canyon, the stream runs clear and strong while petroglyphs lay scattered along the canyon’s walls and yet, not even a decade ago, this pristine natural sight was strewn with garbage.

Thanks to the City of Flagstaff’s recent purchase, Picture Canyon will never return to this state. Just inside city limits in northeast Flagstaff, Picture Canyon’s purchase was the fruition of decades of work by citizens

“The citizens of Flagstaff have transformed it from a garbage dump into what will be a crown jewel of Flagstaff’s park system” said Paul Beier, a conservation biology professor at NAU. “Within five years, this will become one of the most popular places in town for hiking and outdoor recreation.”

The land remained neglected in the state trust for fifty years, when an archaeologist by the name of Don Weaver rediscovered the vitality of the cultural heritage the canyon held. Rallying together citizens, Weaver began the push to have the canyon protected from the desecration it had experienced for so long.

“The area was in really poor condition with tons of garbage and trash, defaced pictograph and petroglyph panels and poor water quality,” said Bruce Fox, a forestry professor at NAU.

However, funding stood in the way. Even though much of the canyon is unsuitable for development, laws requires state trust land be sold to the highest bidder for the benefit of education, with no exceptions for the sake of the environment would be made. In 2004, the city passed an open space bond, which allotted a certain amount of money to be available for the purchase of land that should be protected. The city agreed Picture Canyon represented such an interest and applied for a matching-grant from the Growing Smarter program, a voter-passed fund providing money to set-aside ecologically or culturally significant land.

The grant was approved and, with funding in place, the city seemed set to fulfill protection goals. With an appeal to the state for the sale of the land, the state land department planned an auction for Oct. 30. With City Manager Kevin Burke the lone bidder, the land was sold to Flagstaff for $4.8 million. The city must now go about developing a management plan both to protect the ecology and cultural artifacts but also to provide for recreation on the land.

“This acquisition is a true testament to the vision and tenacity of a dedicated group of Flagstaff residents who years ago imagined that Picture Canyon could one day be permanently protected,” said Celia Barotz, a Flagstaff councilwoman. “I am thrilled that the Flagstaff City Council authorized the use of the 2004 open space bonds to complete this important purchase and will make this unique, cultural, archaeological, recreational and educational resource available for present and future generations to enjoy.”


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