“We are taking positive actions with a great team”

Melissa Paxton

“Thank you for the opportunity to remark on commentary by Gary Schmidt re: Harmony Hollow and Spur Cross.”

No one wants to build a 300 seat amphitheater or a 2100 sq. foot visitor’s center at Harmony Hollow! To continue to make this accusation is simply ridiculous! That is not why I worked so hard with so many others, including Gary Schmidt himself to preserve Spur Cross Ranch twenty years ago. I would not support such an enterprise, EVER. Apparently this notion was proposed in 2014 by someone at the State Land Department and it was dropped long ago. No one on the current Council wants to resurrect this appalling idea. I have told Gary Schmidt this information repeatedly, answering his badgering emails and texts in detail, telling him that this is not something I would ever do.

When I first drove out Spur Cross road to see a house for rent in 1987, I had no idea it would change my life forever. I was completely stunned by the beauty of Spur Cross Ranch. I seriously had to pull over and just be overwhelmed by this rare unspoiled example of Arizona at its finest, especially the water oasis under the towering trees. Ninety percent of these water sources have been destroyed by development in Arizona. After meeting Richard Mocco that day and deciding to move across the creek, I vowed to try to find a way to preserve that entire valley. For whatever reasons, it was a perfect time and place. I found wonderful lifetime friends in Cave Creek and a cause worth fighting for. Richard and I walked the creek to the desert oasis among the cottonwoods nearly every day, rarely seeing another person. Today this oasis is known as the Jewel of the Creek Land Trust Preserve, one of 19 such protected local preserves the Land Trust has saved.

I found the Desert Foothills Land Trust, a group of committed volunteers, at a public meeting called at a local church. They gathered to talk about finding and preserving worthy properties in Cave Creek and Carefree. I stood up among strangers and proposed an art auction fundraiser to preserve Spur Cross Ranch. After the initial shocked silence and smiles accompanied by occasional eye rolls, someone mentioned we would need tens of millions of dollars! Later, I was approached by Lynne Hoss, a board member and soon to be lifelong friend. She said she would help with the auction idea. Lynne was able to take my ideas and create a beautiful event that raised $50,000, even after we paid the artists 40%! As awesome as this was, it would never save Spur Cross, but at least we were getting people to know we were an entity established for preservation. I joined the Board of the Land Trust, an honor I will always treasure.
Years went by with no real threat to Spur Cross, a sense of complacency set in. Hiking one morning in the mid 1990’s, Richard and I noticed tall white stakes visible on the upper flat lands above Harmony Hollow. More stakes appeared at the desert oasis. The developer contacted the Land Trust with blueprints of a golf course, clubhouse, and homes, wanting to perhaps donate the oasis property as a conservation easement. The fact that it would have been under a bridge bringing cars into the development was alarming! Money had already been spent to bring CAP water to the top of Spur Cross rd. along with extensive development plans. This was too big for the Land Trust alone, and would require a different approach from a larger group. Then as now, the Land Trust is a non- profit organization and cannot engage in politics. Saving Spur Cross took the Town, the State, the County, and most of all the citizens of Cave Creek coming together.

Out of a kind of desperation, I sat in front of the grocery store in Carefree with a huge 4’x 8’ poster and photos of the creek in flood stage across what was slated to be a low water crossing upstream from Harmony Hollow. I painted an overlay on acetate of the bridge, golf course, and homes on an enlarged photo of Elephant Butte. This is how I met Barry Disimone and Gary Schmidt and joined the Friends of Spur Cross to fight the development. We sold hundreds of Do Something Wild t- shirts I designed at Barry’s suggestion, and held an art auction fundraiser with the incredible help of Jay and Sandy Williams plus hundreds of artists. Our campaign was for awareness and support. So many people did so much to help us, a true community effort.

Ultimately, through the efforts of hundreds of people, including incredible work by Gary Schmidt, we prevailed in the face of long odds. No one person saved Spur Cross, and many who did the most ask for no recognition.

There is needless confusion about drawings of an art show with tents and a restored bell foundry. These drawings were recently emailed to me by Gary Schmidt as yet another “proof” that I am up to some scheme with the Sonoran Art League to develop Harmony Hollow. I drew those ideas! Like I always do, I think of how to preserve land and pay for it. I have visited many wonderful sculpture gardens nationwide, and helped establish a successful one in Salado, Texas. I did research on the Loveland Sculpture Show, a three day art show held once a year, with annual proceeds of over a $1 million. One of the organizers and promoters of this show does shows in Cave Creek. So yes, I thought it was a great possible way to help pay for, control, and preserve the habitat while recognizing the realities that people already go out there and will continue to in the future. I never met with The Sonoran Art League about this, as it didn’t get that far.
I published my drawings on December 13, of 2019 on the Harmony Hollow Preserve Facebook page and asked for public comment. If anyone wants to see the drawings, maps, and photos, the page is public and has 678 members. Join us! I had some very positive response from artists and the community, but Gary Schmidt and several other people were concerned that it would not be 100% natural, so I dropped the idea last year and have not mentioned it again.

Since then, I have championed taking back the half cent sales tax option, or creating a preservation one penny sales tax specifically to buy all the properties in that part of the Conservation Area in 3 to 5 years. I am always looking for the idea that WILL work.
We need to come together and work as a team. I have been heartened by the first steps taken by the Cave Creek Town Council. We can again bring together a coalition of The Town, State, County, Land Trust, preservation buyers, and most of all the citizens of this special town. W

Lastly, I have been criticized by Mr. Schmidt for trying to help the Cross family to get the price they want. He has stated it is not worth preserving! I would love to see all owners donate land, but know that like Spur Cross, we have to live in the real world and we will kick ourselves in coming years if we lose this opportunity haggling over a price difference that amounts to the cost of a typical Cave Creek home. The first step is appraisals, which is what the Cave Creek Council voted for unanimously. We are taking positive actions with a great team.