Long before Scottsdale residents coalesced around preserving wilderness areas in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, another citizen-driven project transformed public space in the city.
Over three decades after it officially dedicated that project, the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt is in line for a facelift.
The city is currently developing the Indian Bend Wash Masterplan to guide repairs and identify potential new amenities. The plan applies to areas within the greenbelt from Thomas to McKellips roads, including Vista del Camino and Eldorado parks.
The project is unique because of the greenbelt’s dual purpose as both a recreational amenity and flood control structure.
Prior to its construction, the area was a flood hazard that residents referred to as “The Slough.”
In a 2017 video produced by the city to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the city’s first park, Eldorado Park, then city spokesman Mike Phillips referred to it as “a brush-choked, impassable gash dividing the community in two.”
The flooding issues came to a head in June 1972 when record rainfall caused water to overrun The Slough and flood nearby roads and neighborhoods. One man died and 17 people were left homeless, according to Scottsdale Public Library records.
In the 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers had plans to address the issue – caused by runoff from mountains to the north – by building a large concrete canal similar to the one that encases the Los Angeles River.
In 1964, resident Bill Walton wrote a column in the Scottsdale Daily Progress, suggesting the city build a park like Central Park in New York City instead.
The idea quickly caught on and Walton went on to serve on a committee to determine his idea’s feasibility. He also eventually served as city planning director and completed two terms on the City Council.
Longtime Progress Publisher Jonathan Marshall was another supporter of the greenbelt, and the paper’s editorial pages advocated for the project.
Though construction began in the 1970s, the city did not officially dedicate the Indian Wash Greenbelt until 1985.
“Today is indeed a very momentous occasion for all of us,” then-Mayor Herb Drinkwater said at the ceremony. “After more than 20 years, one of the world’s outstanding solutions to flooding is nearly completed.”
The city’s new masterplan will address maintenance and repair needs along the wash, including improved irrigation and other issues with the lakes. The city awarded a $330,292 contract to J2 Engineering & Environmental Design to develop it.
The city allocated $2.13 million overall to develop the masterplan, according to the Capital Improvement Plan for 2018-19.
The plan could include improved compliance with federal handicap-access laws and improvements to the levy system, bank protection, dams and lake liners, said Jeff Engelmann with J2 Engineering and & Environmental Design.
“The wash is getting old… it was built many, many years ago and some of the infrastructure is failing,” city spokesperson Erin Walsh said.
City Project Manager Chris Perkins said the lakes are not as deep as they used to be due to sediment buildup.
“We know we have leaks, erosion, and the irrigation systems are old,” Walsh said.
Perkins said erosion has affected the banks along the natural waterway at Eldorado Park, creating a falling risk for people standing near the edge.
Walsh added that the city could include green, energy-efficient infrastructure in the renovations that didn’t exist when the greenbelt was originally constructed.
“Technology has made things better and now we can be more efficient with water,” Walsh said.
Beyond those repairs, the city could also include new amenities in the masterplan.
“As we fix the wash, we saw it as an opportunity to renovate it as well,” Walsh said.
Citizen feedback will direct what amenities and projects are included in the masterplan.
The city held an outreach meeting in January attended by approximately 150 people, and J2 is analyzing their suggestions.
“We wanted to get clear picture of how it is used today and how it will be used in the future,” Walsh said.
The city and J2 have also had representatives at other community events like Scottsdale’s Fall Festival. Residents can also provide feedback via an online questionnaire at scottsdaleaz.gov/construction/project-list/indian-bend-wash-master-plan/questionnaire.
The city is still early on in the data gathering process and plans to hold additional community meetings to present concepts before the end of May. Dates for those meetings have not yet been set.
Walsh said the goal is to complete the masterplan this fall or winter – before the city finishes planning the next budget cycle so that some projects can be included in the budget for the fiscal year that begins in July 2020.
The plan still has to be vetted by multiple city boards and commissions as well, Walsh said.
Just because the masterplan includes a project does not mean it will be built.
“If it’s not on the masterplan, it can’t be built, but just because it’s on the plan doesn’t mean it will be built,” Walsh said, referring to the masterplan as “the ultimate wish list.”
The budget for the actual greenbelt renovations has not been established. When complete, the plan will include cost estimates for its various components.
The city previously identified $22 million in funding for basic maintenance and improvements to the greenbelt between Thomas and McKellips roads in its Capital Improvement Plan between 2017 and 2022. The city also allocated $1.36 million from a bond approved in 2000 to the project.
However, the city cancelled that project in favor of planning a larger renovation.
“We decided collectively as a city to step back and take a look at what this park could be and what needs to happen and so we backed off of those capital improvements to do this masterplan,” Perkins told the Parks and Recreation Commission last year.
How exactly the city will fund the projects after the masterplan is completed is unknown.
The City Council could once again allocate money in its annual Capital Improvement Plan over the next several years, Walsh said.
Several projects related to the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt could also be included in a potential bond election this year.
The list of unfunded capital projects currently being considered by the council’s Capital Improvement Plan Subcommittee includes a $23.5 million project to repair lakes and irrigation at Vista del Camino Park.
With that in mind, the city’s expenditures will likely exceed the $23 million it allocated to greenbelt improvements a few years ago in the now-cancelled CIP project.
According to city estimates, Scottsdale paid around $14 million of the approximately $54 million it cost to construct the Indian Bend Wash project. The rest of the funds came from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a federal grant and state and county funds. The City of Tempe also contributed $100,000.
“The council and management looked at the park and said ‘this is the crowned jewel of Scottsdale; what if we did something bigger than just maintaining it and bigger than just fixing infrastructure?’” Perkins said.