Camelback Mountain Parking Options Considered by Phoenix Include No Parking Lot at Echo Canyon Trailhead

One of the options being considered by the City of Phoenix to ease traffic jams in the parking lot near Camelback Mountain's Echo Canyon trailhead is to eliminate parking there entirely.

If that happened, a new parking lot with 232 spaces could be created where 44th Street curves east to McDonald Drive.

Or, maybe the city would build that new parking lot, but also expand the Echo Canyon trail parking lot to 176 spaces, up from the current 66.

The city's Parks and Recreation board will ultimately decide from among a range of options now on the table. Board members are scheduled to review various construction concepts and comments from the public about them at a public meeting at 5 p.m. on January 26 in the Phoenix City Council chambers.

About 125 people showed up at a public meeting last month on the issue, says Chris Ewell, a landscape architect for Phoenix's parks development and planning division.

The upcoming meeting should be "lively," Ewell predicts, with input from hikers and residents of the "vocal" homeowners association from the housing development on Echo Canyon Parkway.

The popular mountain park in east Phoenix attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, many of whom hike to the summit using either the Cholla Trail on the east side or the tougher Echo Canyon trail on the west. No parking lot exists for the Cholla Trail, which hikers access by parking on nearby side streets.

The parking problem has grown in recent years at Echo Canyon trail, which sees the bulk of the visitors yet has a small parking lot and limited parking options nearby. Last year, the Town of Paradise Valley banned parking from areas in which it had previously been allowed along McDonald Drive and side streets. Park rangers, bowing to the demands of the HOA residents who share Echo Canyon Parkway, now prohibit the longtime practice of queuing up in vehicles to wait for a spot in the parking lot.

Engineering firm CK Group, hired by the city last year, came up with several options now featured on the city's Web site.

An idea to put in a private driveway for the HOA is favored by the HOA's residents, Ewell says. But in general, opinions about parking options have been "all over the board."

"I've gotten a lot of e-mails," he says.

The board will take under advisement whatever it hears at next Thursday's meeting, then narrow down the options. No pricetags have yet been assigned for the various proposals, Ewell says.

A "preferred plan" based on input from the Board will likely be presented to the public this spring. Eventually, the Phoenix City Council will adopt a plan based on the Board's recommendation.

Parking won't be the only Camelback issue discussed at the upcoming meeting. An expert on mountain parks from Arizona State University will give a presentation on overall capacity issues, Ewell says. And there'll be talk of the safety issue for kids and other park visitors.

Seems to us that the popularity of the park necessitates a maximum-parking option. No solution is perfect, however, because the extra parking would mean more visitors, which in turn would mean more trail erosion, mountain rescues and vehicle traffic.

Most of the problems occur during great weather, of course. We never seem to have a problem finding a spot on July afternoons.

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