History of the Phoenix Park System
In the early 1900s, the City of Phoenix had just three parks, only one more than was set aside in the original town site in 1871. The key to subsequent progress in the development of parks and recreational facilities in Phoenix has been the interest and active support of Phoenix residents. Phoenicians have approved ten major bond issues to support Parks and Recreation, and in 1999 voters approved the Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative tax for the development of parks and recreational facilities.
In the early 1900’s the most popular recreation site in Phoenix was Eastlake Park, which featured a lake for boating, a baseball diamond and stadium, a swimming pool, and picnic and game areas. Located at 16th Street and Jefferson, the park was easily accessible by street car. Though Eastlake was the most popular, it was not the city’s first park. The Carnegie Library provided a park setting in 1908. Verde Park followed in 1909; Central Park in 1910 and then Eastlake in 1914.
In 1934, Encanto Park was proposed for development. Located in what is now the heart of central Phoenix, the proposal was criticized at the time because the location was considered too remote. Critics argued that the money would be better utilized for facilities improvements in more central areas. In the 1930s, bond funds were used to add other parks sites including Coronado, Grant, University and Pueblo Grande Museum. and South Mountain Park/Preserve.
In 1920, city leaders’ moved to preserve what would become one of the city’s signature desert areas – South Mountain Park/Preserve. Proponents of the acquisition saw the area as the last prime recreation site for picnicking, horseback riding and hiking near the city. This desert mountain region, located just over seven miles south of the city limits, was known at the time as the Salt River Mountains and included the Gila-Guadalupe and Ma Ha Tuak ranges, the highest peak in the range was Mount Suppoa at 2,690 feet. With the help of Senator Carl Hayden, community leaders encouraged President Coolidge to sell 13,000 acres to the City for $17,000. In 1925, the first patent for South Mountain Park was secured by presidential decree. South Mountain Park, now over 16,000 acres, is the largest municipal park in the United States and is considered by policy a part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve System. Currently the Phoenix Mountain Preserve spans 37,000 acres and includes North Mountain, Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak and the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. The Parks and Recreation Department plans to acquire additional acreage in the future.
In 1933, the first supervised recreation program was inaugurated on city school playgrounds. Parks and Recreation Board members are appointed by the City Council to five year rotating terms. In 1933, the City Charter was amended to form the Parks, Playground and Recreation Board. This amendment became effective on February 27, 1934. The board assumed the maintenance of city parks from the Streets Department, and at the same time, the voters approved a $1.5 million bond program. In 1933, the Parks and Recreation Board was semi autonomous with far reaching powers, until November 1971 when the City Charter was amended to move many of the Parks Board’s administrative functions including the appointment of the Director of Parks and Recreation to the city council. The City Charter grants the Parks and Recreation Board the duty and power to advise the council on recreational needs and recommend acquisition, location and nature of facilities to meet those needs. The Board also establishes operating policies for recreational facilities and services.
In 1957, a $4.8 million park bond issue was approved to purchase land for the Maryvale Golf Course, seven swimming pools, paving of roads in South Mountain Park and the development of Papago Park including the golf course. In 1961, another bond was issued providing $6.1 million to acquire 400 acres of land for future park sites and complete many park projects throughout the city.
In 1968, and again in 1986, the Parks and Recreation Department was awarded the Gold Medal Award for the best program in the nation among cities with populations over 250,000 by the Sports Foundation Inc., a non profit organization founded to expand interest and participation in all sports and sport activities.