Phoenix Moves Forward on Plan to Relocate Camelback Mountain Trailhead

The summit of Camelback Mountain from the Cholla Trail side.
The summit of Camelback Mountain from the Cholla Trail side. Ray Stern
The potential relocation of the trailhead of popular Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain moved forward this week  with a Phoenix City Council vote to study the costs and details.

The council voted 7-2 on Wednesday to approve a new development on The Phoenician Resort's property that would add more than 300 residences near Cholla Trail, on a piece of land that's now home to part of a golf course.

That zoning package included an agreement by The Phoenician to create a 100-foot-wide easement that would serve as the new start to the trail, if the relocation is ultimately approved by the council. As part of the deal, The Phoenician gave $100,000 to the city to use in some way for the benefit of Cholla Trail.

As Phoenix New Times reported last week, the company that owns the resort — a subsidiary of Host Hotels and Resorts —  had previously agreed to chip in $100,000 to relocate the trailhead from Cholla Lane to a still-undesignated spot on the west side of Invergordon Road south of Vista Drive.

The trailhead would connect to Cholla Trail via a section that would be constructed along the newly created easement. If city leaders decide not to move the trailhead, the easement would be granted back to The Phoenician in five years.

click to enlarge Hikers walking along Cholla Lane to and from the trailhead of Cholla Trail. - RAY STERN
Hikers walking along Cholla Lane to and from the trailhead of Cholla Trail.
Ray Stern
The city's initial estimate of the cost of the trailhead relocation, which would appear to have little — if any — benefit for hikers, is more than $2.1 million.

Owners of the multimillion-dollar homes along Cholla Trail have complained for years about the trailhead, which has no restroom or other facilities and attracts about 11,000 hikers a week on average. Rebecca Hawkins was one of several Cholla Lane residents who testified at Wednesday's meeting about the problems they encounter, which they say include safety issues and people urinating on their property.

"Our landscape is also an area where people sit and wait for people ... and throw trash over our back wall," Hawkins told council members.

"My main concern is public safety," Charmaine Bergreen, another Cholla Lane resident, explained at the meeting. "It's very unsafe. Drivers are navigating an obstacle course and it's an accident waiting to happen."

(Click here for a YouTube video of the council meeting. The lengthy discussion of the Phoenician zoning issue, the preservation of the historic Jokake Inn, and Cholla Trail issues begin at about 27 minutes and end with the vote at about two hours and 23 minutes.)

Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who supports the trailhead relocation, ultimately voted "no" because the proposal didn't include taking down a small restroom on the affected area that is now used by golfers.

"There is nothing special or historic about this bathroom — it is simply a golf course bathroom on a fairway — but the politicians eventually decided that this bathroom must be saved," he said at the meeting, pointing out that Phoenix's investment in Phoenix the overall Phoenician development is about $300 million.

DiCiccio, who represents the district that includes Cholla Trail and The Phoenician, has been working for a couple of years with area residents to resolve issues with Camelback Mountain hikers. Some of those residents prefer the golf course restroom to be demolished while The Phoenician constructs the townhomes and condominiums on its property.

DiCiccio didn't return a call on Thursday, but his chief of staff, Sam Stone, said DiCiccio wanted to leave the utility hookups at the restroom site in case they needed to be used for a new restroom in the area for use by hikers.

Stone said the trailhead-relocation plan would, in fact, be useful to hikers. For instance, hikers could be in danger from vehicles backing out of their properties on Cholla Lane.

"We've had numerous close calls with that," he said. He added that firefighters would be able to rescue injured hikers more efficiently with the new trailhead in place.

click to enlarge Rebecca Hawkins, who lives on Cholla Lane, told the council on Wednesday that hikers throw trash into her yard. - CITY OF PHOENIX VIA YOUTUBE
Rebecca Hawkins, who lives on Cholla Lane, told the council on Wednesday that hikers throw trash into her yard.
City of Phoenix via YouTube
Stone also disagreed with the city's cost estimate for the relocation plan, saying there were "five different designs" being considered that had different pricetags. The money would likely come from the city's budget for parks, he said.

Other city officials contacted on Thursday said they weren't aware of any design plans for the relocation, nor how the project would be funded.

The $100,000 from The Phoenician would be used to hire a company "to study the feasibility of moving the trail, design of the trail, and keeping the existing restroom in place or moving it to meet the needs of a new trailhead," Alan Stephenson, planning and development director, told New Times. "The City Council would have to separately decide to relocate the trail and allocate any money to construct the new trail."

Gregg Bach, spokesman for the city Parks and Recreation Department, said the study would likely be finished in six to nine months.

Meanwhile, residents near Vista Drive, close to the new trailhead under consideration, could be another obstacle to the proposal. They're worried the hiker problem would simply be shifted to their street.

"Those living adjacent to this proposed new trail are considering all of their legal options” said Evan Bolick, a litigator at Rose Law Group who represents some of the Vista Drive neighbors.

Whether the trailhead is moved or not, hikers and homeowners would continue to cope with the parking chaos along Invergordon.

Unlike the even-more popular Echo Canyon Trail on the west side of Camelback, there's no parking lot for Cholla Trail. Hikers jockey to find street parking where they can. Many end up with parking tickets, but homeowners have also complained about the spotty police enforcement of the problem. Invergordon is the boundary between Phoenix and Paradise Valley, and parts of Scottsdale.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern