ORACLE, Ariz. - Before she died in 1976, Lucille Kannally willed her ranch here to the Defenders of Wildlife, on the condition that the national environmental group preserve the 4,000-acre patch of desert foothills as wildlife habitat.
But the group later handed off the ranch
to a government agency, Arizona State Parks, which now plans to
develop the quiet oak woodlands, deep arroyos and historic ranch
house into an environmental education center attracting hundreds of
people a day.
Some see a conflict in two
environmental strategies - education and preservation - trying to
coexist on the same land.
disgraceful," says Tucson attorney and former Defenders president
Louis Barassi, who negotiated the arrangement with Kannally.
"Intrusions into that property are a violation of the original
grant, and definitely a violation of Lucille Kannally's intent."
Managed by Arizona State Parks as the Oracle
Center for Environmental Education, Kannally's old ranch is
scheduled to be transformed by the construction of a new driveway,
a visitors' center, a residential education facility, bunk houses,
scattered picnic sites and state-of-the-art composting
Kannally's will called for the land to
be "perpetually used as a wildlife reserve." But park manager Laura
Key says some people who knew Kannally feel she would have
supported the goal of educating people about the
It's difficult to know for sure.
Kannally was the last of a family from the Midwest that took up
ranching around Oracle, a rural town on the opposite side of a
mountain range from Tucson. She guarded her privacy and ordered all
her personal effects be destroyed after she
Although Defenders accepted a few other
parcels around the time of her gift, the group focuses more on
lobbying in Washington, D.C., and is not set up to manage land.
Defenders deeded the ranch to state parks in 1985, via a
short-lived nonprofit called the Arizona Parklands Foundation. In
return, the state promised that the land would not be disturbed "in
any manner which would ... degrade the natural habitat, environment
and ecosystems of the wildlife and plant life." If the covenants
are violated, Defenders can take the land
"For the last decade, I'm not aware of
anyone (from Defenders) who's even been out to look at that
property," says Tom Thompson of Oracle. Barassi says, "They gave it
away, and then they went away. I think the Defenders of Wildlife is
absolutely derelict in not enforcing those (reversionary)
In a phone interview, Washington,
D.C., Defenders spokesman James Wyerman says, "We never felt like
we had a responsibility to provide local oversight on the property.
We put in the conservation easement to help ensure that the
intended purpose be continued. But from the information I have,
there doesn't appear to be any violations of that easement."
Some neighbors say the violations are obvious,
going back to 1985. That's when the Parklands Foundation sponsored
a glitzy celebration on the land, complete with foot-long
invitations, nouvelle chow and then-Governor Bruce Babbitt praising
the deal as a "superb gift" to Arizonans. There was talk of
building a "people-oriented park" with sensory sound gardens, wind
sculptures and astronomy interludes featuring laser
After protest and some public hearings,
what emerged was a scaled-back version of a people park, with
construction scheduled to begin this fall. "These facilities have
been planned to minimize their impact on the earth, right down to
how we design water use, heating, lighting," says Key. She cites
the toilets: They'll have skylights, with natural illumination
sliding down reflective light tubes. "Even using the bathroom will
be an educational experience."
Key says the
state will develop less than 1 percent of the acreage. "Our goal is
not only to make people more sensitive to wildlife, but also to
teach them about how the natural world works. Those ongoing
benefits far outweigh the impact we'll have."
The residential facilities, Key says, will allow
people to "immerse themselves for three days or a week, and have an
undisturbed environmental experience." The education will be so
broad as to include organic composting and how to conduct a
Many Oracle residents now
support the plan as a soft-path approach. One, Anne Woodin, says,
"Of course there are extremes on both sides. But to me, education
is the important thing. If you don't provide it, then people won't
Oracle native Bruce Woodruff
disagrees: "Though state parks denies it, that property is a
wildlife corridor. I've seen herds of javelina (wild boar) going
through there, all kinds of animals ... They're not talking about
the cumulative effects of having so many people visiting the
property ... Some of these people have made environmental education
into a religion."
The reporter is a
Tucson-based free-lance writer.