Conservancy helps protect White Tank Mountains

Buckeye’s Skyline Regional Park and other areas of the White Tank Mountains get support from a nonprofit organization dedicated to protection and enjoyment of some of the West Valley’s most notable natural resources.

The White Tank Mountains Conservancy was formed in 2015, the brainchild of Todd Hornback, executive director of community development for DMB, the builder responsible for the development of Verrado at the base of the mountains in Buckeye.

Although we’re a developer, we have a penchant for conservation and being sensitive to the land that we have the privilege of developing,” Hornback said.

We knew this asset would be value added to our community.”

Besides White Tank Mountain Regional Park, nearly 30,000 acres managed by the Maricopa County Parks Department, Hornback said he found there wasn’t much being done with what he called “a hidden gem.”

In addition to desert plant life and petroglyphs, the area is home to mule deer, mountain lions and Javelina, which could be threatened as further development occurs.

After meeting with Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck, the idea for the conservancy was patterned around the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy that protects an area near DMB’s DC Ranch development in Scottsdale, Hornback said.

Hornback is chair of the conservancy’s seven-member board, with Meck as vice chair.

We want to do more than protect the mountains, we want to protect the ecosystem and natural habitat,” Hornback said.

By advocating for the White Tank Mountains, Hornback said the conservancy seeks to avoid what’s happened in some other areas of the Valley where developments near mountains have been blamed for eliminating wildlife.

The question is, how do you balance growth with the preservation of open spaces?” he said.

The benefit for residents is greater recreational resources by protecting tens of thousands of acres of open space in the White Tank Mountains from development and making the area accessible to the public, Hornback said.

This year, the organization launched a three-year $1 million fundraising campaign.

Hornback said about $300,000 has been raised, with charter memberships offered the first year.

Donations at the $50,000 corporate level have come from DMB, APS/Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station and the homebuilder D.R. Horton.

A $25,000 individual membership donation category is also available, Hornback said.

Municipalities committing to a $25,000 contribution include Buckeye, Surprise, Peoria and Youngtown. Progress is being made to get other West Valley cities on board with the project, Hornback said.

They realize this is a regional asset,” he said. “They see the value of open space.”

Hornback said city officials can promote conservation efforts to lure business.

The more assets you have in the region, the more it attracts business,” he said.

Hornback said funds raised go toward the conservancy’s start-up costs, including hiring an executive director.

Efforts will eventually shift to foundation funding, but Hornback said he doesn’t see the conservancy becoming a multimillion dollar organization.

Most conservancies are high-impact, low-cost enterprises because they use volunteers,” he said.

Hornback called the volunteer stewards “critical to the ultimate success” of the conservancy.

Already, the conservancy has helped offset operations and maintenance costs at Skyline Regional Park with the stewards.

According to the city of Buckeye, 835 volunteer hours have been donated by volunteer stewards who patrol the trails, guide hikes and nature walks and provide information and assistance to park visitors.

A volunteer team of what Hornback called “citizen scientists” are working with Arizona State University and the Desert Botanical Garden to inventory flora and fauna in the mountains.

The team of stewards is overseen by Robert Wisener, Buckeye’s conservation and project manager, who is also on the conservancy’s board.

Wisener said 50 volunteers are involved in the program.

It really has been a benefit,” he said.

Wisener described the volunteers as “active adults,” ranging from college-age youths to retirees.

Volunteers have an interest in the outdoors and preserving and protecting natural resources, he said.

Volunteers go through a training program, with the next one to be offered Oct. 22.

To apply to volunteer or for information on the conservancy, visit

Glenn Gullickson can be reached at

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