Parks Department History

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The Legacy began in 1867

The City of Phoenix's original town site was founded as farming homestead in 1867 by Jack Swilling, a Civil War veteran who was stationed in Arizona during the war. In 1871 the Maricopa County was formed by splitting the Yavapai County, and the growing Phoenix town site was now a central community in the valley.  With newly appointed leadership and governmental oversight, the Parks and Recreation legacy began with two park areas for settlers to enjoy.  From these humble beginnings the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation has grown to oversee one of the largest parks systems in the country, with an ever growing amount of park and natural space that today is well over 40,000 acres.   The key to the steady growth of Phoenix's parks system has been the commitment of residents and leadership alike to preserving the natural beauty and precious resources of the valley, ensuring that generations to come will have an opportunity to experience Phoenix in a way that respects and celebrates our history. 

Early 1900s

The most popular recreation site in Phoenix was Eastlake Park, which featured a lake for boating, a baseball diamond and stadium, a swimming pool, and picnic and game areas.  Located at 16th Street and Jefferson, the park was easily accessible by street car. Though Eastlake was the most popular, it was not the city's first park.  The Carnegie Library provided a park setting in 1908. Verde Park followed in 1909; Central Park in 1910 and then Eastlake in 1914.



Arizona Republican article 1924City leaders moved to preserve what would become one of the city's signature desert areas -- South Mountain Park/Preserve. Proponents of the acquisition saw the area as the last prime recreation site for picnicking, horseback riding and hiking near the city.  This desert mountain region, located just over seven miles south of the city limits, was known at the time as the Salt River Mountains and included the Gila-Guadalupe and Ma Ha Tuak ranges, the highest peak in the range was Mount Suppoa at 2,690 feet.   With the help of Senator Carl Hayden, community leaders encouraged President Coolidge to sell 13,000 acres to the City for $17,000.  In 1925, the first patent for South Mountain Park was secured by presidential decree.  South Mountain Park, now over 16,000 acres, is the largest municipal park in the United States and is considered by policy a part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve System.  Currently the Phoenix Mountain Preserve spans 37,000 acres and includes North Mountain, Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak and the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve.  The Parks and Recreation Department plans to acquire additional acreage in the future.


The first supervised recreation program was inaugurated on city school playgrounds. Parks and Recreation Board members are appointed by the City Council to five year rotating terms. In 1933, the City Charter was amended to form the Parks, Playground and Recreation Board.  This amendment became effective on February 27, 1934. The board assumed the maintenance of city parks from the Streets Department, and at the same time, the voters approved a $1.5 million bond program.  In 1933, the Parks and Recreation Board was semi autonomous with far reaching powers, until November 1971 when the City Charter was amended to move many of the Parks Board's administrative functions including the appointment of the Director of Parks and Recreation to the city council.  The City Charter grants the Parks and Recreation Board the duty and power to advise the council on recreational needs and recommend acquisition, location and nature of facilities to meet those needs. The Board also establishes operating policies for recreational facilities and services.


Encanto Park was proposed for development. Located in what is now the heart of central Phoenix, the proposal was criticized at the time because the location was considered too remote. Critics argued that the money would be better utilized for facilities improvements in more central areas.  In the 1930s, bond funds were used to add other parks sites including Coronado, Grant, University and Pueblo Grande Museum. and South Mountain Park/Preserve.