Former New Jersey Governor & Part-Time Scottsdale Resident Urges Desert Edge Caution

OP ED from New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman
With an introduction by Solange Whitehead

From New Jersey Governor to Scottsdale Snow Bird

Preserving open space isn’t just about nature and quality of life. It is big business and Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve is proof. The Preserve, preserved, is a top reason that visitors return again and again fueling Scottsdale’s lucrative tourism industry. Furthermore, many visitors turn into tax paying, local business supporting snowbirds. New Jersey’s first woman Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, is case in point. When not on her family farm in New Jersey, Governor Whitman enjoys living in Scottsdale and hiking the McDowell Mountains.

Yet Scottsdale’s Preserve is threatened by a 20th century notion that open space should be ‘improved’. Otherwise known as developed.

As Governor, Whitman led a successful, voter approved effort to protect large swaths of forests and farmland in one of our nation’s oldest and most densely populated states. To Arizona – one of our nation’s newer states – she offers wisdom and guidance on the importance of protecting the land and honoring voter intent.

Solange Whitehead is a former Scottsdale Preserve Commissioner, candidate for City Council

Honoring Voter Intent Means Protecting the Preserve

I live most of the year in the most densely populated state in the nation, yet I live on a 160 acre farm an hour from New York City. Eight million people living on 4 million acres probably accounts for the fact that we care so much for open space preservation. 

Like Arizonans, the citizens of New Jersey understand that open space preservation provides both quality of life and economic benefits: protecting water resources, preserving biodiversity and wildlife habitats and enhancing recreational opportunities. In New Jersey, protecting open space is part of a strategy to protect our agriculture and our $40billion tourism industry. In fact New Jerseyans have voted again and again to tax themselves in order to protect open space and farmland. On a state basis, our goal is to preserve 40% of our land mass and we are well on our way to accomplishing that.

This is not by way of an advertisement for New Jersey (if it were, I would mention our 127 miles of beaches, the Pinelands National Reserve in South Jersey covering 1.1 million acres as well as some of the toughest parts of the Appalachian Trail that pass through our state) rather, it is by way of saying that I care not only about preserving open space, but the how and why of it. When citizens vote to protect an area, they expect that the intent of the vote will be carried out to its fullest.

I have the great good fortune of being able to spend part of each year in Arizona and to enjoy the incredible diversity to be found here. I have hiked many of the trails around Scottsdale and visited Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons as well as the Grand Canyon and have much more on my bucket list. Like New Jersey, Arizona is unique in what it offers both residents and visitors.

Educating people about the opportunities they have at their fingertips is critical to their understanding of how to protect our fragile environment. It’s not a question of whether or not to establish such education centers, is a question of where and how. Once land is preserved for the public, it must be protected for the public. Education centers must fit in with the environment that surrounds them and be acts of preservation in themselves. An education center is just that, for educating. It should be limited to helping people more fully appreciate what they might encounter on the trail, and what trail edict means. Other opportunities for housing and meals, while necessary, should be at a distance that does not intrude on the protected area itself.

As communities grow and revenue pressures make budgeting more and more difficult, it is natural to look for answers that appear to bring a big bang for the buck even if it they may skirt a previous commitment. It’s the role of the decision maker to exercise the leadership necessary to look not just for the quick solution, but for the right solution. I have faith in Arizona and it’s leadership, especially here, in Maricopa County. I know I will be able to continue to enjoy and share with family and friends, the magnificent preserves all around me.

Governor Christine Todd Whitman
President of The Whitman Strategy Group (WSG), Governor Whitman was the 50th Governor of the State of New Jersey, serving as its first woman governor. Among her many accomplishments, Governor Whitman earned praise from both Republicans and Democrats for her commitment to preserve a record amount of New Jersey land as permanent green space. Governor Whitman served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She resides part time in the Valley.