Catalina State Park - a preserve of grand desert landscapes and curvaceous canyons set against a backdrop of the craggy Catalina Mountains - turns 30 years old this month.
The public is invited to join in a daylong celebration at the park north of Tucson on Saturday.
Events marking the milestone will include a ceremony at 11 a.m., guided hikes, animal exhibits, and presentations on bird-watching, GPS navigation, geology, archaeology, wildlife, landscape painting and other topics.
Food trucks will serve up pizza, barbecue, sweets and other fare.
Normal admission fees of $7 per vehicle will be waived for the day.
Dedicated on May 25, 1983, when development in the area was still sparse, the 5,500-acre park today is flanked by housing developments and a major shopping site including a Walmart.
That "urbanization," says park manager Steven Haas, has made Catalina an ever-more-precious "place of wildness" over the years.
"People come into the park off of busy Oracle Road, start hiking up a trail, and breathe this big sigh of relief," Haas said. "They're so close to all of that urbanization, but in the park they can experience wildness, solitude - even opportunities for spiritual reflection.
"That's what makes this place so special."
A MULTITUDE OF USES
Land now occupied by the park was targeted for expansive residential development in the 1970s - but a coalition of groups and citizens wanted the site preserved as open space and ultimately prevailed.
That victory led to creation of the park, which is now a treasured destination for hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, campers, picnickers, bird-watchers, photographers, history buffs and people who just want a soothing time-out from the urban rat race.
The park attracts 170,000 to 200,000 visitors a year - and apparently manages to satisfy a diverse mix of people.
"I think one of the things that makes the park so valuable to the community is that it can be - and is - enjoyed by people of all ages," said Pamela Ludwig, president of a year-old group called the Friends of Catalina State Park. "I know some older folks who enjoy just driving through the park. Kids love discovering wildlife and playing in the creek - when there's water.
"Lots of us enjoy walking our dogs at the park," Ludwig said. "Bicyclists are frequent visitors, so are hikers, walkers, and picnickers. I love that it's a peaceful and protected place."
On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/gallery for more photos of the park.
if you go
• What: 30th anniversary celebration for Catalina State Park.
• Where: The park is at 11570 N. Oracle Road. Watch for the entrance at Milepost 81.
• When: Saturday. Guided hikes begin at 7 a.m. Other events and programs run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. An anniversary ceremony begins at 11 a.m. A Star Night Party, with viewing of the night sky through telescopes, will take place from 7 to 9 p.m.
• Admission: Free. The normal $7-per-vehicle entrance fee will be waived for the day.
• Information: A schedule of events is at the park's website: azstateparks.com/parks/CATA/
Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz