This growth, here and elsewhere in
 the West, is coming at a
 cost, according to conservationists:
 harmed wildlife habitats,
 higher regional temperatures, air and
 water pollution, more
 traffic and the introduction of invasive
Now, increasingly, the city is working
 to protect its open spaces
 from development. Voters agreed to
impose a local sales tax,
and the state provided matching grants,
 to go toward scooping
 up land for preservation. In the past five
 years, Scottsdale has
 more than doubled the area of the
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
 to 30,000 acres, creating the largest
 municipality-owned urban
 park in the U.S. The city bought 2,365
additional acres of state
trust land just this past week at an auction.
Like Scottsdale, many cities and towns
across the West that grew
 up after World War II have struggled to
 maintain their quintessentially
 Western features while encouraging
growth and economic development.
 Hanging on to the West's characteristic
 "wide open spaces," officials
 say, is a constant battle.
Arizona is one of the fastest-growing U.S
. states, registering a nearly
 25% rise in population from 2000 to 2010
 and more than that in each
 of the preceding two decades, according
 to the U.S. Census. For the
 past five decades, Nevada has been the
 fastest-growing state, while
Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and
 Idaho also have seen
 substantial increases.
Such rapid expansion "triggers a contest
 for the soul of a place,"
 as historian Hal Rothman wrote of the
 American West in "Devil's
 Bargains" in 1998. "The inherent problem
 of communities that
succeed in attracting so many people is
 that their very presence
destroys the cultural and environmental
 amenities that made the
 place special."
Scottsdale Mayor W.J. "Jim" Lane, who
 moved to Arizona from
 New Jersey in 1973, attributes his city's
 successful conservation
 efforts to "an alignment of the stars":
With the downturn in the
real-estate market, the prices for state
 trust lands dropped, and
there was less competition for the properties
. Since December
 2009, the state's "Growing Smarter" program
 has provided
 $86 million that has allowed the city not to
 have to borrow
 as much money to buy land.
The voter-approved 0.35% sales tax for land
 preservation is
 being funded in part by Scottsdale's booming
tourist trade:
 Mr. Lane says more than one-fifth of funds
 from the tax come
 from spending by nonresidents. Last year,
 the city had more
than eight million visitors, while its population
 has grown to
 about 220,000 from just 3,500 in the mid-1950s.
Cave Creek, a nearby town of 5,000, has
made similar land
 acquisitions in recent years, as have Phoenix
 and Pima County
, where Tucson is located. As in Scottsdale,
 the residents of
Cave Creek, many of them right-leaning
 independents, voted
to tax themselves in order to be able to
purchase land for conservation.
"You could talk to the most hard-core
 Republican in my community,"
 Cave Creek Mayor Vincent Francia says,
"and preservation is the
 most important thing—it's the one thing
 we all agree on."
Last month, in a promotional effort poking
 fun at its upscale neighbor,
 Cave Creek disputed Scottsdale's claim
 as "The West's Most
 Western Town." Mr. Francia challenged
Scottsdale's Mr. Lane
 to a mock gunfight at an annual Old West
Mr. Lane didn't show. But his city made
clear that it took the
 challenge seriously, threatening legal action
 if its motto was
 appropriated. Cave Creek settled instead
on "Where the
 Wild West Lives."
The spat was lighthearted, but it reflected
 serious issues
facing Western states, says University of
Arizona anthropology
 professor Thomas E. Sheridan. Increasingly,
he says, the West
 has become "this land of the megalopolis,"
 and the natural
environment has been "overwhelmed" with
 urban development.
Efforts to keep the landscape intact and allow
native wildlife
 to thrive "may be too little, too late," Dr.
 Sheridan says, bu
t it's a "much more compelling and important
 story than two
communities fighting over" a slogan.
"Open spaces, ranching culture, native
 culture—places where
 these large landscapes are kept
 unfragmented," Dr. Sheridan says.
 "That, to me, is the West that's worth
fighting for."