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Former Rancho Vistoso golf course to become a nature preserve

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 11:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - On Wednesday, Preserve Vistoso announced the anticipated purchase of the former Rancho Vistoso golf course. The nonprofit was founded by Oro Valley residents interested in turning the 200-acre property into a nature preserve and trail system.

“We as a community group decided that we would organize ‘Preserve Vistoso’ to have a say in what happens to the property,” said Patricia Sturmon, a board member of the conservation group. “It’s a great story of the community talking to Town Council, especially the Mayor and Vice Mayor. We let them know what we wanted and they stepped up to help us!”

The Vistoso golf course opened in 1995 as a “desert course,” meaning more than 70% of the property was kept as natural habitat. Romspen Investment Corporation, a non-bank lender, took possession of the land in 2015 when IRI Golf Group defaulted on their mortgage. Sturmon says attempts to sell the golf course failed and it closed in 2018.

When residents learned about Romspen’s rezoning request and the potential development of dozens of homes, they formed Preserve Vistoso in 2019. The group is comprised of nearly 2,000 members.

“Our community would not give up,” said Gayle Mateer, the president of Preserve Vistoso. “Our volunteers persistently raised the issue of preserving the property with Town Council members and Town management. Preserve Vistoso membership grew as more community members supported our efforts to preserve the property for community use. [The Conservation Fund] has been our valued and trusted partner. We also applaud the involvement of Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield, Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett, Town Council members, Town Attorney and Town Manager in negotiations for the purchase. Their support and direction were critical to our success.”

Romspen has signed an agreement for The Conservation Fund (TCF) to buy the property.

“The Conservation Fund is a very well-known national organization,” said Sturmon . “They have come to us and said, ‘We want you to raise $1.8 million by the end of December.’ We had a very successful fundraising campaign last year, and we are anticipating that the community will once again step up.”

Sturmon says the old Vistoso clubhouse and surrounding six acres of land will be sold separately to developers.

“[We are saving] 202 acres of some of the last remaining parcels of Sonoran Desert in Oro Valley,” she said. “This will be open to all of our community to come take a walk in the park, if you will.”

Sturmon says six miles of paved trails and three restrooms will remain, the rest will be returned to the desert.

If you would like to help Preserve Vistoso secure the property, click HERE.

Sturmon says the nonprofit plans to eventually turn the nature preserve over to the Town of Oro Valley.

KOLD News 13 reached out to Romspen Investment Corporation for comment. We are waiting to hear back.

Wednesday night, an Oro Valley spokesperson released the following statement:

“For more than a year, Oro Valley Town Council has been engaged in actions and negotiations intended to preserve the former Vistoso Golf Course as open space for the public, and they have held numerous executive sessions regarding the matter. Under state law, Town Council’s discussions in executive session are privileged and cannot be publicly disclosed; however, on September 8, Council publicly voted to direct staff to proceed with a settlement agreement with Romspen that will facilitate The Conservation Fund’s purchase of the former Vistoso Course property. The Town is aware of and acknowledges The Conservation Fund’s efforts to raise the funds necessary to consummate the purchase of 202 acres of the property.”

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