October 13, 2021 |Mike Ford | Land

Preserving Open Space Is Par for the Course in Oro Valley

When I show people photos of this desert landscape—which I admit is looking especially lush after 12” of rainfall—it is often difficult for them to imagine that until quite recently this natural expanse was actually the fairways of a former golf course. With its mountain views and varied desert vegetation, the site provides habitat for wildlife such as mule deer, bobcats, and birds, as well as rock formations bearing Native American petroglyphs.

Vistoso Credit Rosa DaileyPhoto by Rosa Dailey. 

Vistoso Petroglyph 20190618 5 Fairway 0007Vistoso CircularPetroglyphs on Vistoso rock formations. Photos by Bill Murray and Preserve Vistoso.

When the Vistoso Golf Course ceased operations in 2018, it left behind a little over 200 acres of Sonoran Desert teeming with potential. While some parties saw the future of the Vistoso property as filled with more homes and development tracts, many Oro Valley residents envisioned it becoming a nature preserve with trails open to the community. These residents soon organized and rallied around the town’s motto, “It’s in our nature,” to bring their vision to reality.

That’s when The Conservation Fund got involved. I was first contacted by local leader Rosa Dailey in April 2020, who told me about the property and the groundswell of community support to see this open space preserved and not developed.

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“I have fond memories when I think back on the day Mike Ford came to Oro Valley to view the old Vistoso golf course for potential preservation. At that time our community was fresh from a battle to stop development on the land, weighed down with all the negative emotions that accompany such a task. What we soon learned with the help of The Conservation Fund is the difference between a dream and a goal, and the continued resolve required to want to preserve a piece of land for its beauty and historical and cultural value. There were many dark days on this journey, but our community never wavered and proved that the goal of conservation is worthy and rewarding."

- Rosa Dailey, Oro Valley Resident

Along with Rosa, we won the support of local community group Preserve Vistoso, which is a 501(c)(3) with over 1,900 members, as well as the local blogs Take Back Oro Valley and Let Oro Valley Excel (LOVE), which feature issues of importance to a community that values the preservation of Oro Valley’s unique desert landscape. Additionally, we’ve been grateful for the support of town leadership, including Mayor Joe Winfield and Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett. Mayor Winfield took to this project with particular interest as a landscape architect who served with the National Park Service for 32 years, including time with the Conservation Assistance Program.

Vistoso 1IMG 0037MtnView5thHoleView from the fifth hole. Photo by Bill Murray and Preserve Vistoso.

"Preserve Vistoso is grateful to The Conservation Fund for making our three-year dream come true. They believed in our vision and never gave up. We also want to recognize the leadership shown by Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield, Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett, the Town Council, and staff in embracing our dream and resolving to make it a reality. We imagined a special place where wildlife can flourish and our community can enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, and we're thrilled that it's finally going to happen.”

- Gayle Mateer, President of Preserve Vistoso

The Vistoso property already has many features that will be immediately useful in its new life as a recreational space and nature preserve. Just over six miles of wide, uninterrupted concrete paths wind through the native landscape, providing visitors with easy access to stroll, bike, or run and connect with nature. There is also a pond that could be restored as a scenic viewpoint and a place for wildlife and birds. You might even say that future visitors to Vistoso will be trading birdies for majestic Harris’s Hawks, Great Horned Owls and an array of other unique desert avians.

Vistoso CroppedForCard2 edited luminarPhoto by Bill Murray and Preserve Vistoso.

Once the fundraising is complete and the 202-acre former Vistoso Golf Course is officially purchased, The Conservation Fund will protect the property with a conservation easement, which will legally protect this land for conservation indefinitely. After that, the property will be transferred to the Town of Oro Valley, and a qualified land trust will be named as the long-term property steward who will ensure it adheres to the terms of the conservation easement.

I’m proud that the 202-acre Vistoso property will join the nearly 1 million acres of land The Conservation Fund has protected across the state of Arizona. I’ve had the chance to work on many meaningful projects during my 20+ years with The Conservation Fund, and I can say with certainty that the Vistoso project would not have been possible without the unwavering local support. While we ran into challenges and roadblocks, our strategic partnership approach was able to bring us to the finish line. Our success in protecting the invaluable cultural, recreational, and environmental benefits of this property forever is thanks to the continued support from the entire community.


Vistoso rainbowPhoto by Rosa Dailey.


Find out More

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Listen to Mike Ford as he talks about the acquisition of the former Vistoso golf course on the Oro Valley Podcast by clicking here.


Written by

Mike Ford

Mike Ford joined The Conservation Fund in 1999 and serves as the Nevada and Southwest Director. He has been responsible for some of the Fund’s largest projects, including acquisition of the Kane and Two Mile Ranches that encompass nearly 100 miles of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. When he’s not working, Mike can usually be found on a golf course, near the beach, or watching his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers.