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  • Successful businessman was also a pioneer of conservation

    The way we were
    By Tom Prezelski

    For most Pima County residents these days, the name Arthur Pack is usually mentioned in the context of golf because of the noteworthy Lee Trevino designed course at a park named after him on the Marana-Oro Valley frontier. Arthur Pack was prominent a businessman and philanthropist whose impact on conservation policy is still felt locally. His influence extends well beyond Pima County as well.

    Arthur Pack’s father Charles was a Midwest timber magnate whose concern about the long-term sustainability of his industry led to an interest in scientific forestry and conservation in general. He imparted this passion to his son, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1893. After receiving a business degree at Harvard, the younger Pack served as an artillery officer in World War I, then came home to help his father run his business and philanthropic activities.
    Arthur Pack
    In 1923, father and son established the American Nature Association, which sought to promote interest in conservation and the natural world among the general public. Arthur edited and published the association’s successful magazine, Nature (not to be confused with the prestigious British scientific journal of the same name), and wrote a regular nationally syndicated newspaper column entitled “Queer Quirks of Nature,” which was carried by the Arizona Daily Star. Arthur visited Tucson as early as 1925 as part of a lecture tour to the association’s local chapters around the country, and this may be when he first developed his interest in the Sonoran Desert.

    Arthur Pack was certainly looking west by 1933, when he wanted to move his family to a drier climate due to his daughter’s respiratory problems. During a visit to a resort called Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico, Pack learned that its owner was having financial difficulty and offered to buy the place. With his family moved in, Pack continued his writing. It was an item by Pack describing the ranch which intrigued artist Georgia O’Keefe, who famously became a long-term guest, though she was reportedly difficult at times.

    In 1946, Pack moved his family to Tucson, which he called “the nicest town to live in I’ve found in all my travels.” His first business venture here was a motor court, also called Ghost Ranch, along what was then called the Casa Grande Highway. He quickly became involved in local affairs, including serving on the boards of the Chamber of Commerce, The Sunshine Climate Club, Saint Mary’s Hospital and the YMCA. His charitable work got him named Tucson’s “Man of the Year” in 1952.
    But it was his conservation work for which he was best known. Regarded as an expert on the local flora and fauna, he was also quite strident in his advocacy, as shown by this excerpt from a 1952 letter to the Arizona Daily Star which reacted to a “naïve” and “silly” editorial regarding “enlightened self-interest” regarding the environment:

    Today, the man with the gun poses as a champion of conservation. So does the enlightened lumberman who now finds it good business to promote re-forestation. Someday, perhaps, a future generation of cotton growers, faced with the extinction of their business due to exhaustion of our underground water supply, will not only agree to regulation, but will actually spend money for constructive projects to replace nature’s greatest resource. Then they may boast that they are the only real conservationists and even sneer at us “common” citizens—the “nature lovers” who simply want some water to wash in and drink.

    Pack’s work and reputation earned him an appointment to the three-member County Parks Commission (later the Parks and Recreation Commission) in 1953. Soon elected president of the board, Pack took on a leadership role in the fight to keep Tucson Mountain Park, setting up the public-private partnership to manage Colossal Cave Park, and acquiring other parks around the community such as Lakeside. Early on, he worked with County Attorney Morris K. Udall to create an argument for allowing the County to use bonds to acquire and improve parks that would stand up in court. This was a controversial idea at the time, but quickly became an important tool for financing park facilities.

    Early in 1952, Pack and his friend William Carr conceived of the idea of creating a museum in Tucson Mountain Park at a place called Mountain House. Originally, it was to be called the “Trailside Museum,” but, partnered with his friend William Carr, the original vision quickly expanded to an international institution to be called the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum constructed with money from Pack’s foundation and donations from all over the country. The museum was open later that year and soon acquired an enviable national reputation. Pack would serve in leadership positions there for the next sixteen years.

    Pack finally stepped down from the Parks and Recreation Commission in 1973, and County Parks and Recreation Director Gene Laos soon sought a way to give him a fitting tribute. At the time, the County was working on acquiring a parcel of over 500 acres northwest of Tucson, then a newly developing suburban area whose residents were otherwise without recreational amenities. The new park was to include a golf course, a pool, athletic fields, and, perhaps to Pack’s liking, large tracts that were to remain natural desert. The project was delayed because of a dispute with the federal government and a squatter who maintained an illegal mining claim there. These problems were soon resolved, but the planned new park remained without a name.

    In March, 1974, it was announced that the new park would be named for Pack, and he was honored with a special ceremony at the restaurant at his own Ghost Ranch Lodge. He passed away a year later. 
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