The Town of Fountain Hills is a master-planned community located between the dramatic McDowell Mountains and the Verde River on the northeastern edge of the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. The rich history of the surrounding area dates back centuries when it was home to the Hohokam whose elaborate canal system along the Verde River is believed to have supported between 4,000 and 10,000 people from 1100 to 1450. For largely unknown reasons, the tribe disappeared after that period and the Yavapai later migrated to the region.
The descendants of settlers from the 1860s turned this area into one of the largest land and cattle holdings in Arizona until the late 1960s when it was purchased by Robert McCulloch Properties.
The design plan for McCulloch’s 12,000-acre model city was completed by Disneyland designer Charles Wood, Jr. They chose to install a fountain as the iconic centerpiece for the community, constructing it to be the world’s tallest manmade fountain at the time. Centered in a lake in Fountain Park, the fountain reaches 560 feet when all three 600 horsepower turbine pumps are powered at the same time. Fountain Park attracts thousands of visitors each year. The community’s founding birthday is considered to be December 15, 1970 when the fountain was first turned on. The town later went on to become incorporated on December 5, 1989.
Since incorporation in 1989, Fountain Hills has grown from a little more than 6,000 residents to a town of more than 22,400 in 2010. The Maricopa Association of Governments estimates that the population of Fountain Hills will continue to grow to a build-out population of up to 35,000.
Fountain Hills was named by Phoenix Magazine as the best place to live in the Valley of the Sun and was cited as “a welcome oasis on the outskirts of a metropolis”. In 2009, Business Week named Fountain Hills the “Best Affordable Suburb” in Arizona. In 2010, Fountain Hills was designated as a “Playful City USA” for its abundant open space and available playground equipment. A factor in these awards is not only the abundance of traditional parks, but also the variety of parks, such as a skate park, dog park, a splash park and a nationally recognized disc golf course.
When it comes to festivals and special events, Fountain Hills is in a league of its own, attracting several hundred thousand visitors each year. Just some of these celebrations and fun-filled activities include the Great Fair, Fountain Festival of Arts and Crafts, Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving Day Parade, Fourth of July fireworks, Concours in the Hills, Fountain Hills Music Festival, the premiere Mountain 2 Fountain 15K race, the Turkey Trot, the Memorial Championship Disc Golf Pro Tournament, Eggstravaganza, Fine Art and Wine Affaire, and weekly Art in the Park and Farmers Market.
Art is a significant part of our town’s heritage. Fountain Hills boasts over a hundred pieces of publicly displayed art throughout the downtown and among our public buildings. The eight original fountains along the Avenue of the Fountains were the beginning of the public art collection. Residents and visitors can wander the streets to enjoy the art, or take the “Art Walk” guided tour.
One of the community’s most valuable assets is its natural beauty. Four Peaks Mountain at 7657 feet looms to the east, with homes nestled in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains to the west. This places Fountain Hills in close proximity to hiking, biking, boating at nearby Saguaro Lake, and tubing and kayaking on the Salt River. Fountain Hills is also home to some of the more challenging and picturesque golf courses in the state of Arizona, four in total.
Adding to the attraction of Fountain Hills, 740 of its 12,000 acres have been set aside as a preserve. The preserve is contiguous with the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Combined, these areas encompass more than 50,000 acres with over 200 miles of trails, making it a paradise for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.
Fountain Hills Unified School District #98 has three excelling schools: McDowell Mountain Elementary for kindergarten through 2nd grade, Fountain Hills Middle School for grades 3 through 8, and Fountain Hills High School for grades 9 through 12. There is a Montessori-style charter school that goes through 8th grade and a large and active homeschool group, Fountain Hills Christian Home Educators.
Fountain Hills High School engages in a student exchange program with our sister cities. Sister cities of the town include: Kasterlee, Belgium; Dierdorf, Germany; Ataco, El Salvador; Zamosc, Poland.
Fountain Hills is fortunate to have one of the darkest night skies of any community near a major metropolitan area. We are shielded from the nightglow of the Phoenix metro area due to the presence of the McDowell Mountains to the west. Having the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community to the south, McDowell Mountain Regional Park to our north, and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and Tonto National Forest to our east, we enjoy the benefit of dark skies naturally. These dark skies enabled Charles Juels, a Fountain Hills resident and amateur astronomer, to discover 475 asteroids, one of which he named Fountain Hills.
These dark skies were made possible not only by the terrain, but also by conservative, common sense lighting ordinances that were ahead of their time and were enacted by our early community leaders. This has allowed us an easier path to seek Dark Sky designation today. In a Google Earth map representing light pollution, Fountain Hills is ranked the same as Flagstaff, the first city in the world to be designated a Dark Sky Community by the International Dark Sky Association. Flagstaff is home to Lowell Observatory where Pluto was discovered, and the U.S. Naval Observatory.
It is known that a number of residents moved to Fountain Hills because of its dark skies. In 2015, two new residents to Fountain Hills along with a third resident formed the Fountain Hills Astronomy Club. The club now has a list of over 400 members. In March 2015, one of the founding members of the Fountain Hills Astronomy Club donated his telescopes to the Fountain Hills Library. Because the library has the telescopes available for checkout and co-sponsors monthly “Star Parties” with the Fountain Hills Astronomy Club, the Fountain Hills Library Branch of the Maricopa County Library District earned a national achievement award for innovation in county government programs in August 2016.
Because of the darks skies and significant astronomy-related activity, there has been growing community interest in the construction of a public observatory.