Granite Dells — from private resort to public open space


Payne/Granite Dells — A Gem Along Granite Creek

The evolution of a once-popular private resort to public open space illustrates how the land trust works with landowners to preserve natural landscapes, history and recreational opportunities.

Sherman Payne’s great-grandfather settled in the Granite Dells, north of Prescott in 1880. The homestead was named after the surrounding geology consisting of exposed bedrock and large granite boulders that, along with centuries of erosion, lend a rippled effect to the landscape.

The 32-acre property was eventually developed by the Payne family, along with partners, the Wings, into the popular Granite Dells Resort, which operated from 1922 to 1971, attracting locals and tourists with a swimming lake, dance and pool hall, fishing lake, cabins and other amenities.

It is believed the original pond was established by Native Americans who may have dug out a natural spring to water agricultural crops. The original spring-fed catchment was enlarged into an A-shaped concrete swimming lake. At some point a well was added to augment the pool, which held 3 million gallons of water.

Sherman, who died in 2011, said he often felt as if he were born and raised in the Dells pool. He was a lifeguard at the resort and became a regionally known swimming and diving champion.

The resort closed in 1971 when he was no longer able to operate it, and increasing insurance costs made it financially difficult to continue the business. Although the swimming lake is now empty, history still flows from the property.

In 2002, Sherman and wife Charline made the decision to protect portions of the homestead and property against development through a conservation easement and agreements with the Central Arizona Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land. They could have sold the land to developers for a large sum, but keeping the history alive and the land intact was more important to them than money.

With property taxes outpacing income, the couple had few options for passing on the homestead. They feared their children would have to sell it just to pay the inheritance taxes. The conservation easement provided their children future homesites while leaving most of the land undeveloped. The easement also allowed Sherman and Charline to live out their lives on the property.

Subsequently, following the establishment of the easement, the City of Prescott purchased the property and added it to its open space holdings and public recreational trails network.

Protecting the property not only ensured its place in history will never be lost, it also demonstrates the powerful property right afforded those who choose to protect their land with an easement.

Today, hikers, cyclists, runners and other recreation-mind folks can enjoy the rich heritage and natural environment along Granite Creek thanks to the foresight of its previous owners and the dedication of The Central Arizona Land Trust.


A 16-year-old Sherman Payne dives from the platform that was a prominent feature of the Granite Dells Resort. The photo, a part of the Payne family collection – dates back to 1940.

The Central Arizona Land Trust is an Arizona nonprofit corporation and is tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) and a qualifying organization under Section 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) of the Internal Revenue Code for the acceptance of conservation easements.


Central Arizona Land Trust

PO Box 1050

Prescott, AZ, 86302


Office Location: 1577 Plaza W. Dr., Prescott, AZ 86303