This is last of a four-part series examining the 15-year dispute between the Mabery Ranch, owners of the Blazin' M Ranch, and Arizona State Parks. A Yavapai County Superior Court jury awarded the Mabery family over $2 million in damages resulting from the state's denial of open access to their property. At the time of the printing of these articles, Arizona State Parks had chosen to appeal the jury's decision.
For the Mabery family, the ongoing litigation with Arizona State Parks has not only been an exercise in frustration, and devastating to their business, it has also gone on way too long.
After a court ruling in 2002 and a unanimous jury decision in 2004, the State Parks Board has, as of Feb. 16, decided to appeal the case and continue its fight with the Blazin' M Ranch.
"It's been extremely frustrating and disappointing," said Lori Mabery, family member and director of operations for the Blazin' M Ranch. "We've been through this for 15 years. Even after a judge's decision and a unanimous jury decision they continue to use taxpayer money to restrict our access."
She said it has been particularly frustrating watching the continued expansion of Dead Horse Ranch State Park, while the Blazin' M Ranch remains tied up in litigation.
"They have argued about everything we have tried to do. Our planned development and vision for this land has been delayed. I don't know how feasible it is now after waiting 13 years.
"Yet they continue to develop their park, adding lagoons and overnight facilities. One of our reasons for keeping up the fight is our belief that if they can do this to us, they are going to do it to adjacent land owners and their land."
Lori Mabery's comments are specifically aimed at Arizona State Parks' plans to develop the Verde River Greenway, a proposed riverside park extending from Cottonwood to Beasley Flat, south of Camp Verde.
The proposed greenway will give Arizona State Parks control over thousands of acres and most of the public access to the river.
Lori's father-in-law and family patriarch, Chuck Mabery, echoes her warning.
"I am fearful for other property owners along the river as the plans for the Verde Greenway move forward. How many of them will have to go through what we are going through," Mabery said. "The mentality of the director and parks board is spooky."
Chuck Mabery realizes that his family has a distinct advantage that other property owners don't have. He has a son, Rick Mabery, who is an attorney.
"We can afford to fight where others might not," Chuck said. "I often wonder about those who would not be able to withstand the legal challenges."
He and his wife Rita purchased the original 27-acre ranch along the Verde River in 1967. Up until a flood wiped out their irrigation system in 1993, the land was both a family home and a farm.
As he is quick to point out, he was commercially farming his property before there was a Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The park wasn't established until 1973 when the Ireys family donated the land to the state.
He regrets the day in 1991 when financial obligations had gotten the best of him and he decided to sell off a portion of the property.
"It seemed like the logical owner would be Arizona State Parks. They are, after all, the state government and they would help protect the land." Mabery said.
Mabery believes the problem started when he told State Parks Director Ken Travous that he was not interested in selling his entire piece of property.
"It almost seems as though that was when things started to get ugly," Mabery said.
He says State Parks eventually dragged out the closing date until October 1992, putting additional financial burden on him.
He has not forgiven them for slipping in a deed that was not part of the sale agreement. The deed restricted access to his remaining parcel.
"They had slipped it into the escrow papers," Mabery said. "We had never discussed the deed, it was not in the purchase agreement nor were there any escrow instructions for such a document.
"I thought I was dealing with honest people," Mabery said. "I know better now."
He says he has also not forgiven them for trying to restrict the use of his property by filing a Notice of Reservation of Rights, a document that is not addressed in state statutes, which was recorded against his property in 2001.
Both documents have since been voided by court actions.
Chuck Mabery remains baffled by all that has gone on over the years. "I have known some of the folks on the State Parks Board," Mabery said. "It is made up of good people."
Through it all he remains complimentary of the staff of Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
"The people who work at the park are the salt of the earth," Mabery said. "I want it made perfectly clear that our dispute is with the director and the board, not with the folks operating the park."
Mabery is also quite frank in stating, as another involved in the case has said, that he believes the entire controversy centers on the Arizona State Parks Director Ken Travous.
"Ken Travous is manipulative, and not just toward our family. I believe he only tells the board what he feels they need to hear.
"In his desire to run us off he has attempted to defraud us on more than one occasion. That has been proven in court. I shudder to think what else has gone on that we don't know about.
"No branch of government or individual should have the right to do what has been done to us," Mabery said.
Chuck Mabery was 64 years old when the controversy began. He is now 79. He says he plans to keep up the fight.
"We may be tired of fighting with these people, but we are not tired enough to give up."
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- Part 1: Blazin' M Ranch awarded $2.01 million