Harvey Clark introduced our guest speaker, Cyndi Ruehl, Executive Director of the Superstition Area Land Trust (SALT). Cyndi is an arid lands restoration ecologist. As such, she prefers to work toward land conservation and ecological planning in order to prevent the need for restoration or mitigation. In addition to being the first paid executive director of SALT, Cyndi chaired the Pinal Partnership Open Space and Trails Group and its northern regional group for the past seven years. She also serves as the first Chair of the newly formed Pinal County Open Space and Trails Advisory Commission. 
Cyndi noted that the Rotary 4-Way Test includes, “Is it a benefit to all concerned?” That was a big clue “that I’m among friends,” because open space and protected space benefits everyone.
SALT started 23 years ago in Gold Canyon, right on Kings Ranch Road, when residents came together out of concern that the residential growth was getting out of hand, blocking access to trails, and creating rising concerns about conservation and urban sprawl.
About two-thirds of Pinal County is State Trust Land. “Pretty much anywhere you look, other than wilderness and mountains, if you see open space, it’s State Trust Land. That means it’s for sale.” In fact, just south of Apache Junction and Gold Canyon, where there is now open desert, plans already exist for a development called Superstition Vistas. That community is projected to house one million people.
“So how do we deal with development? How do we have smart growth? How do we make it ‘beneficial to all concerned’? That’s where we come in as a conservation organization.”
In 2009, a national non-profit, Trust Public Lands, conducted a study, “The Economic Benefits of Open Space and Trails in Pinal County, Arizona.” The study concludes that, not only are parks and open spaces great for recreation and tourism, they also help attract businesses that are looking to locate where they can offer potential employees a higher quality of life. Open spaces increase home values by about 40% and attract residential developers. Direct spending by visitors and tourists generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue, while the increased physical activity from park use generates measurable health benefits yielding medical cost savings totaling millions of dollars. Land conservation also helps protect the water supply by allowing for natural recharge and discharge and not contributing to groundwater withdrawals.
SALT has a six-pronged approach to conservation:
Advocacy – “We are at the table when land use decisions are being made… we’re not a group that throws ourselves down in front of bulldozers. We look for win-win solutions and problem-solving.”
Land Conservation – SALT is the only nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the natural Sonoran Desert open spaces surrounding the Superstition Wilderness Area.
Education – “If you’re not aware of something, you don’t love it. And if you don’t love it, you don’t want to protect it.”
Stewardship – “We maintain several trails including the Hieroglyphics Trail, Silly Mountain, and an 11-mile trail that goes from Peralta Trail to Lost Dutchman State Park… We also have trail stewards who are out there walking the trails to help people.”
Scientific Study – “We’re developing a citizen science program. Get hold of me if you have some science in your background and you’d like to be involved.”
Partnership – SALT works with all stakeholders, including state and local government, NGOs, companies, and the public to protect lands that border the Superstition Wilderness Area.
“The challenges we face as a community are the potential of unregulated development around us and the popularity of our open spaces. We are loving our open spaces to death. What we need are volunteers, donations, and, especially, your input.”