Thu, Nov. 14

Commentary: Rockin’ River State Park – boon or boondoggle

For more than 20 years, Elaine Theriault has been owner and operator of Camp Verde Ranch, LLC, the horse boarding and breeding facility at Rockin’ River Ranch. Theriault is a member of the 10-person Technical Advisory Committee to Arizona State Parks and Trails’ plan to convert the ranch into Rockin’ River Ranch State Park. (Photo by Bill Helm)

For more than 20 years, Elaine Theriault has been owner and operator of Camp Verde Ranch, LLC, the horse boarding and breeding facility at Rockin’ River Ranch. Theriault is a member of the 10-person Technical Advisory Committee to Arizona State Parks and Trails’ plan to convert the ranch into Rockin’ River Ranch State Park. (Photo by Bill Helm)

After many months (maybe a few years) of rumors, the State Parks planning group (whoever they are?) hosted a public meeting on June 1st to introduce their ideas on a master plan for transforming the Rockin’ River Ranch on Salt Mine Road into a new state park.

The Rockin’ River Ranch was purchased in 2010 by the Nature Conservancy for $7 million and turn over to the Arizona State Parks.

This year, Governor Ducey appropriated an initial $4 million to build the state park and formal planning has begun.

His vision is to use the 200 acres to:

“Provide visitors access to one of Arizona’s most unique and pristine natural landscapes, as well as enhanced opportunities for outdoor recreational activities. More than one mile of riverfront will provide access for fishing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing; stables and hiking trails will connect visitors to Prescott National Forest; camping grounds and cabins will provide lodging for overnight guests; previously cultivated fields will lend space for community events; and did we mention the horses?”

The meeting was hosted by both our state representatives and even the mayor of Camp Verde attended. So all should be well in Camelot, right?

Not so fast. What could go wrong with such a great project? A lot to put into 200 acres.

We will ignore some of the more basic questions such as why we would be spending this kind of money on private land when the state cannot even fund our school systems or provide decent teacher’s pay.

Let’s start with the money trail. The term “economic benefit” is used in the park’s presentation and a favorite bureaucratic ploy. This is a code name for more tax revenue. An indirect way of taking the park’s profits and benefits by the state and Yavapai County. Watch closely as this project moves along and see who is awarded the concessions licenses to the park. It will be interesting to trace these back to lobbying activities.

Let’s look at taking 200 acres with a large portion of it covered by river and floodplain and turning it into a huge commercial tourist site while conserving its “pristine natural landscapes.” The 200-acre site will host a small town of RV’s, camping, and ATVs. To do this, let’s look at what is being considered in the plan.

• An RV Park – Rumors are up to 85 RV sites. Oh yeah, we already have RV parks. Why not have this site compete with the several other RV parks in the valley?

• Cabins – We don’t have enough hotel space in the Verde Valley, so let’s build some cabins, and rent them out at a “reasonable” rate specified by the state. The waiting list for the cabins will surely not be more than 100 pages.

• Group Camping – What would the wildlife viewing be without adding more wildlife? Bring your beer and leave your beer bottles.

• Boat and Tube Rentals – We have to have boat rentals. If we don’t who will compete with the private river rafting companies already in the Valley. Oh, I forgot we already have free boat launching facilities already in place at White Bridge, Clear Creek, and Beasley Flats.

• Fishing – Yep, we must have fishing with the State and conservation groups buying up all the land up and down the river, it is becoming very difficult if not impossible to access the river.

• ATV Access – This will be a major benefit. With all the ATV noise and dust, those dang deer, elk, bear, javelina, quail, ducks, geese, and other pesky wildlife will need to move miles down the river, but the flies should be safe.

All joking aside, how can the State Parks hope to manage all these ideas without damaging the environment and the wildlife in the area as well as impacting the community?

Have they not learned their lesson from Fossil Creek? Rockin’ River Ranch environment won’t last a year if it is opened to these activities (

“Pristine” will clearly be enhanced by all the new trash. Just look at the trash already left at Clear Creek and multiply that by the hundreds.

Who would be silly enough to think that Salt Mine Road can handle any kind of RV traffic? The seven mile stretch to the Rockin River has no turnouts. RV’s that break down cannot get off the road.

The road has two major grades and many curves. RV breakdown and wrecks are not something that might happen, they will happen. Let’s not forget about the trash, alcohol and drug abuse, and other problems that comes along with public parks. Has anyone asked the Sheriff’s Department and the Fire Department where they will get new resources to support this park?

We haven’t had a major fire in on Salt Mine for a long time, but the odds just went up significantly. We don’t have room here to go into the archeological damage and a numerous other topics but let’s look at the decision makers.

It was disclosed at the meeting that a group of approximately 10 people comprise a committee that is driving the park process.

One might say “great!” This gives the local community a big voice in what is about to happen to their neighborhood and community. WRONG! No local residents and on the committee except the current manager of the Rockin’ River Ranch (which has a vested interest in the outcome).

You ask how that can be. Easy, you have to get all the governmental groups on the committee and why would you want real people impacted by the park involved. It appears that Camp Verde has more representation on the council than the local Salt Mine residents.

Quite frankly, the Salt Mine community has no say and little to no county or state services for the taxes they pay. We are not even allowed to vote in the town elections yet these same groups want a voice (and a monetary benefit) from the park at the expense of our local community.

So what do we have, a boon, or a boondoggle?

We should take off our rose-colored glasses. This is another Fossil Creek. Currently, state and public access sites along Salt Mine Road are limited to day use only.

Come enjoy a great natural environment but go home at night. A state park opened to alcohol, drugs, and all-night activities will create a nightmare in the local community and destroy our environment.

The residents of Salt Mine Road will bear the brunt of these mistakes. Adding these same problems to traffic on Salt Mine Road is a recipe for a disaster.

The welfare of local residents will be endangered and let’s just write-off the wildlife. In a few years, the bureaucrats who will create this mess will be gone. We, the residents will have to clean up their mess. Here we are again, the government is here to help us! WELCOME TO THE ROCKIN’ RIVER BOONDOOGLE.

(Join us on Facebook at Protect.Saltmine.Road or email us at

Mike Noble is a Salt Mine Road resident.

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