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The parcel, located adjacent to Interstate 40 north of Williams, Ariz., has been the subject of speculation over its possible development in recent years.
The creation of a new County-maintained natural area is one step closer to fruition, as an agreement between the owners of Gonzalez Ranch and Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit organization, to donate a 488-acre property and permanently preserve it as recreational open space, is expected to move forward in the next several weeks. The parcel, located adjacent to Interstate 40 north of Williams, Ariz., has been the subject of speculation over its possible development in recent years.
The donation agreement describes a mutual goal that the property be owned and managed in a manner that is consistent with the preservation of its natural, scenic, open space, natural ecosystem, wildlife habitat and recreational values. To that end, both the property owners and TPL are collaborating with Coconino County Parks & Recreation (CCPR) on a plan that will ultimately allow CCPR to own and manage the land as a natural area, open to the public for outdoor recreation, and also be protected by a permanent conservation easement.
"We are so thankful to the donors for their generous offer to donate this property and are excited to work with Coconino County and the City of Williams to create more quality spaces for close-to-home outdoor recreation,” said Michael Patrick, Senior Project Manager for Trust for Public Land.
Coconino County Parks and Recreation would take on management after the donation is completed. Parks and Recreation would be honoring the conservation desire of the donors to ensure the long-term protection of the Gonzalez Ranch property. This includes the natural resources, scenic value, and natural ecosystem and wildlife habitat values. Additionally, CCPR would handle recreation opportunities and development, with an emphasis on maintaining the conservation principles of the land. This follows the CCPR commitment to “engage the public in delivering quality parks, equitable community partnerships, diverse recreational opportunities, and distinctive natural areas and open spaces” and the vision to “enrich lives through exceptional parks and programs.”
Conservation helps sustain natural resources, from water to wildlife movement to biodiversity. It also protects the view and scenic scape of the region, ensuring the longevity of the landscape and its natural beauty. Access to parks and green spaces has been shown to improve health and quality of life, as well as support exploration and learning opportunities for children and adults.
Upon approval by the County Board of Supervisors, implementation of the agreement and of the plans, the County will begin planning the development of the property for outdoor recreation, which would involve input from the community.
The property was part of the initial land purchase by Max and Thelma Biegert in the late 1980s when the couple planned to revitalize the defunct Grand Canyon Railway. After selling the Railway to Xanterra Parks & Resorts in 2007, the Biegert Family retained the Gonzalez Ranch parcel.
After Max and Thelma passed away days apart in 2021, Rebecca Biegert Conti, her children and the family of nephew, the late Jeff Biegert, were given the opportunity to save the land, and their dream of seeing it become a public park is one step closer. Conti says, "We are grateful to be a part of this, and we are excited that this beautiful land will be preserved for the enjoyment of the residents of Williams and Northern Arizona for generations to come.”
The future park at Gonzalez Ranch will honor the story of the Gonzalez family which immigrated from Spain and settled the land in the early 1900s.