[Source: Joanna Dodder Nellans, The Daily Courier] -- The Central Arizona Land Trust has saved three scenic sites in the Prescott area over the past few decades, but its latest conservation easement is by far its largest ever. Skull Valley rancher Dave Jenner (pictured at left) wanted to keep his ranch a ranch forever, so he turned to the Central Arizona Land Trust (CALT) for help. CALT came into being in 1989 to preserve open space at the base of Thumb Butte in Prescott, and later took on easements of 10 acres in the Mountain Club subdivision and 35 acres in the Granite Dells of Prescott. Jenner chose to donate a 4,296-acre conservation easement on his W Diamond Ranch to CALT. In exchange, he received federal tax benefits.
The ranch sits on the southern fringe of the tiny settlement of Skull Valley, about 20 miles southwest of Prescott. The ranch is about half deeded land, and the other half is state trust land and U.S. Bureau of Land Management property. The easement means no one ever will develop the private land into a subdivision. "I saw rapid growth that was coming all through this area, and I thought, 'Well, we shouldn't have all this bottomland in development,'" said Jenner, who served as a county planning commissioner for three decades and as a school board member. "Dave will be the steward of this property, just like he's always been," said Jeanne Trupiano, CALT project manager. "He's exercising his property right to protect this forever."
It is easy to see why Jenner wants his ranch to stay undeveloped. When he was looking to buy a ranch in this area back in 1954, the stately row of cottonwoods along the ranch's entrance road caught his eye. They are still there and still catching the eyes of visitors. The bottomlands that run through the ranch alongside Skull Valley Wash contain a wildlife haven with lush riparian vegetation dominated by Fremont cottonwood and willow trees. Artesian springs pop up out of the native grasslands that segue into mesquite, hackberry, desert willow, oak, manzanita and mountain mahogany. "You can see by the diversity of the land how important this (easement) was," CALT President Steven Corey said. "It helps to assure that ranching keeps happening in this area."
Matt Turner documented the ranch's baseline conditions for CALT, which will review the on-the-ground conditions each year. "I think it's incredible, one-of-a-kind, unparalleled," Turner said. Wildlife appreciate it, too. Jenner and Turner said they have seen coyote, javelina, deer, elk, bobcat, lion, fox, roadrunners, birds of prey and abundant waterfowl on the ranch. Groups such as CALT can fashion easements to fit the owner. Jenner, for example, left a few small pieces off the easement for future family homes and an experimental farm site for Prescott College. Existing structures also will remain. Some of those structures have historical value also worth preserving.
The ranch's first owner in the 1800s was Jake Miller, Jenner said. Miller was one of the Prescott area's first settlers, and Miller Valley still bears the family name. He and his brother Sam owned an early freight service on the Ehrenberg Road from Prescott to the Colorado River. The oldest portion of the main ranch house was a stage stop along the old Ehrenberg Road and dates back to the 1800s, Jenner added. The house has incredible views of the bottomlands and rugged Kirkland Peak. Now, those views will never change.