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Photos: Rancho Romero and the establishment of Catalina State Park
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Photos: Rancho Romero and the establishment of Catalina State Park

The Tucson-area's urban outdoor gem, Catalina State Park, had its genesis in the 4,200-acre Rancho Romero along what was then the Tucson-Florence Highway, 14 miles north of downtown Tucson.

In 1935, Joseph E. McAdams, founder of Steel Products Engineering Co. in Springfield, Ohio, purchased the land known as the George Pusch property to establish Rancho Romero. McAdams raised registered Hereford cattle at the ranch and on his farm in Ohio. The couple commissioned architect Joseph T. Joesler to design a ranch home, which was built in 1941. Mr. McAdams died in 1965 at age 84.

The property passed to McAdams' daughter, Pauline, and her husband, W. C. Jordan. He was vice president and general manager at Steel Products Engineering Co. in Ohio from 1924-47. He was president of Curtiss-Wright Corp and Wright Aeronautical Co. from 1947-48. Finally, he was executive vice president and general manager of Hughes Aircraft Co. Jordan died in 1968 at age 70. 

Jordan's son, Joseph, sold the ranch property to John Ratliff of Ratliff-Miller Investment Co. in 1970. Ratliff was former professor of English at Arizona State University. He went to Pima County seeking to rezone the land to build a "satellite city," with 6,500 homes, two 18-hole golf courses and business and shopping centers in five phases over five years. Jordan sold the property on condition the "buyer would develop the property in a manner to leave the natural environment almost totally intact," according to the Tucson Citizen. Nonetheless, Jordan, who was also an investor in the project, backed the Ratliff development plan.

A group called the Coalition Opposed to the Rancho Romero Development quickly formed in opposition to the project. The Arizona Game and Fish Department publicly warned that part of the ranch was a grazing area for a sizable heard of Bighorn sheep. The Arizona State Museum said the site includes a Hohokam Indian village dating back to 700 A.D. Eight University of Arizona professors publicly outlined the damage to the environment.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to deny the zoning for the massive development.  

The State Parks Board was very slow to embrace establishment of Catalina State Park. So, Tucson Rep. Charles King introduced a bill in the state legislature for the establishment of Catalina State Park. Gov. Jack Williams signed the legislation authorizing acquisition of more than 13,000 acres of lands in both Pima and Pinal Counties through land exchanges.

In 1975, Pima County purchased 2,000 acres of Rancho Romero from Mr. Ratliff and Ratliff-Miller Investments. In 1979, they agreed to a swap of the remaining 1,889 acres for state land in Rancho Vistoso on the West side of the Florence-Oracle Highway.

Long story short, a series of lease agreements, land exchanges and purchases ensued over several years which enabled establishment of the park boundaries. Construction on park buildings began in 1981. The park officially opened on May 25, 1983.

Sources: Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Citizen and Arizona State Parks

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