What We Did
Created an epic mountain biking and open space preserve next to Tucson
Protect land for critical species and for recreation
As the sun sets, warm orange, yellow, and pink hues stretch across the desert sky and silhouettes of saguaro cactus spread as far as the eye can see. Other plants, such as prickly pear and palo verde trees, enhance the desert landscape.
Those who visit Sweetwater Preserve enjoy this desert oasis due to dedicated community members, Pima County’s commitment to protecting its most important natural lands, and some heroic conservation efforts.
In 2001, the Tucson Mountains Association approached Trust for Public Land to protect this rare 700-acre property of pristine Sonoran Desert. It was the largest remaining tract of undeveloped land in the Tucson Mountains and home to several vanishing wildlife species, including the cactus pygmy owl, desert tortoise, and Gila monster. In the preceding five years, 23 separate residential subdivisions had sprung up in the Tucson Mountains, and time was running short. The 700 acres had been put on the market for sale as a future residential subdivision.
TPL negotiated a deal with the owners to take the land off the market until Pima County could raise funds to acquire the land. Thankfully, county voters approved a $174-million open space and habitat protection funding measure in 2004, and a portion of those funds was used to buy the land and create Sweetwater Preserve.
Today, the preserve provides amazing outdoor recreation experiences close to the one million residents in the Tucson metro area. Visitors can choose hiking, horseback riding, or trail running along a 15-miles trail system. However, Sweetwater is best known for its mountain biking and is highly ranked within the biking community.
The preserve is home to a diversity of birds, five amphibian species, 40 reptilian species, and over 40 mammal species. According to experts, it sustains 1,000 to 1,200 species of native bees – claiming status as the world’s richest “bee real estate.” And given its proximity to Saguaro National Park, less than a half-mile away, Sweetwater is a key part of the mosaic of public lands that connect the Tucson Mountains with the Santa Cruz River and preserve a vital wildlife corridor.
Today, the Sweetwater Preserve is protected as open space and is part of a preserve system established by Pima County under its expansive Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. The preserve continues to be a focus of TPL’s land protection work as we protect adjacent properties that will allow the creation of recreational trails connecting Sweetwater’s trail system to the nearby national park.
“Sweetwater Preserve combines the land protection of a large and critical Sonoran Desert property and an amazing trail system. This crown jewel of open space is one example of Pima County’s extraordinary commitment to preserve its most important natural areas and create world-class outdoor recreation for its residents,” said Michael Patrick of Trust for Public Land.