ADOT to buy Wilderness Edge property as sanctuary looks for new location

Plans for a 90-acre wildlife park in Wikieup have hit a major snag, forcing developers of the sanctuary to start again from square one.

"We must start all over again," said Marsha Sailer, marketing and fund-raising director for the Wilderness Edge Wildlife Reserve.

"We weren't aware of ADOT's plans to widen the road, leaving us with no access to the highway."

Martine Colette, the owner of Wildlife Waystation, a 160-acre non-profit exotic wildlife refuge in Southern California, purchased 90 acres along U.S.

Highway 93 in Wikieup with plans for an exotic wildlife sanctuary and park.

But during the permit process, the developers learned of the Arizona Department of Transportation's long-term plans to widen that stretch of U.S.

93 to four lanes, which would leave the park without an access road, said Bill Goodale of Goodale Consulting, an economic development firm in Kingman.

Goodale, who has been working with Wilderness Edge developers, said to his knowledge Colette was not aware of ADOT's plans when she purchased the property.

Goodale submitted a site plan for Wilderness Edge Wildlife Reserve, located at mile post 121 on U.S.

93 five miles north of Wikieup, to the Mohave County Planning and Zoning Department in October.

"We are notified as part of the routine permit process when someone intends to develop property," said ADOT District Engineer Sam Elters.

"We are improving the highway because of an increase in traffic and growth," Elters said.

"We have been working on the U.S.

93 for six years, and will continue to do so.

Eventually the stretch of highway from Wikieup to I-40 will be four lanes, but it will take us a long time."

The Tompkins Canyon Project - part of the 35-mile stretch of highway from Wikieup to Interstate 40 - is in the design stage.

"We hope to complete that section of the highway in 10 years," Elters said.

Sailer said there is an access road close to the property but that she was informed by ADOT Right-of-Way Agent Roxanne Turner that the highway would eventually be widened, which would eliminate the access road.

"We were told it may be five to 10 years before the road is widened, but we cannot develop a multi-million dollar park knowing that at some time in the future it won't have an access road," Sailer said.

Elters said ADOT will purchase the Wilderness Edge property, a routine process where access to the highway cannot be provided.

"We told them we have started appraising the property, and have started the acquisition process.

We will give them fair market value," he said.

"Our vision is for U.S.

93 to become an access-controlled highway, where the only way to get on and off the highway is at the interchanges.

"There are several parcels affected.

This is not the only one."

Currently only parts of U.S.

93 are four lanes, with the remainder a two-lane rural highway.

Improvements to three sections of U.S.

93 along the 100-mile stretch between Wickenburg to I-40 will be ongoing the next 20 years, Elters said.

The highway will be part of the Canamex Corrider, a north-south route to improve the movement of goods, services and people as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Elters said he first learned of the proposed animal park site in Wikieup in January 2002.

"We contacted the previous owner and the realtors because we recognized there would be a conflict, that there would be no access," Elters said.

"We wanted to make sure they knew there was a conflict."

The property was sold to Colette in April 2002.

Sailer, who had been living on the Wikiep property with her husband, Zone, said Colette has been looking for other property in the Wikieup area.

"She plans to go through with her original plan," she said.

"But this has set us back by several months or more."

The proposed sanctuary for abused and abandoned wildlife would accommodate 150 to 200 lions, tigers, ligers (a genetic cross between a lion and a tiger), zebras, wolves, primates, ostriches and other wildlife.

Colette operates a similar sanctuary near Los Angeles that has been closed by the government for health and safety reasons.