Countdown begins for Verde River Days

What do the southwestern willow flycatcher, the spikedace minnow and the great blue heron have in common?

They all call a six-mile stretch along the Verde River home.

Where have visitors and residents gone to see such notable politicians and environmentalists such as John McCain, Bruce Babbitt and Barry Goldwater?

Verde River Days.

Comprised of 735 acres, the Verde River Greenway needs your support and protection.

To learn about the strategies of stewardship, the community is invited to the opening ceremonies of Verde River Days Sept. 30.

Beginning at 10 a.m., State Park's Board Members John Hays and Sherrie Graham, along with State Parks Executive Director Ken Travous will deliver information on how you can get involved in preserving one of our communities most beloved resources, the Verde River Greenway.

"We are going to talk about local stewardship and how important it is and what happens if you don't do it," explained Travous.

"The Verde River is a nice success," he adds.

But Travous' message is simple, "Don't let your guard down and stay involved."

"All Arizona State Parks ever wants to do is to be in support of what the community wants," explains Graham. Resident involvement is critical she said, "The state only has so much money. With local involvement the projects get speeded up."

The trio will be providing a history of the Greenway along with addressing the need for a community based, non-profit organization that supports the area.

John Hays has been involved in the Greenway from the very beginning. He served 16 years in the State Legislature representing the Verde Valley and was involved in Arizona's Natural Resources Committee. He was originally involved in the Greenway's conception.

"There is still a long way to go," Hays said of the Greenway's development. "State Parks are willing to look at acquiring property in the greenbelt but we are limited to purchasing that land at its appraised value."

It's friends groups, explained Hays, that give State Parks the additoinal support required both to preserver and expand the natural habitat set aside for the public.

"We don't have the money to do everything," he said. "Friends group can help by encouraging people to offer their land to State Parks and to do volunteer work and encourage and maintain the areas."

"All friends groups are organized with a goal in mind," explained Travous. "In this case its those who want to see the Verde River healthy and protected. That the water is clean with access for recreation and wildlife."

Graham suggests it is community involvement that creates park success stories, such as Karchner Caverns in Southern Arizona. It's this kind of involvement she hopes translates to action in the Verde Valley.

"We were so fortunate to have community based organizations in the development stages of Kartchner State Park," said Graham. "They made all the difference when it came time to publicly dealing with the park, the ceremonies and ongoing education."

Travous foresees a variety of ways residents and visitors can get involved in the Verde River Greenway. He suggests everything from bird watching to canoe groups.

"I think the main call though is that people be on their guard," he said. "I've seen areas gobbled up by homes and other development issues. I encourage people to pay attention. It's not an issue of no growth but rather wise, smart growth."

"The whole plan could include a larger greenbelt where horseman, hikers and bird watchers can get away from urban life and enjoy the area," said Hays.

Travous agrees: "The river is our heritage we need to protect it."

Verde River Days is Sept 30 at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood. Free parking and admission. Exhibits begin at 9 a.m. with opening ceremonies at 10 a.m.

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