Nancy L.C. Steele

November 2021

On December 27, 2011, eight dedicated people put their names down on formal paperwork to create Friends of Verde River Greenway. Their purpose was “to preserve, enhance, and promote the scenic, natural, historic, cultural and recreational resources of the Verde River Greenway corridor.” 

This month I want to talk about Friends of the Verde River, the successor organization to Friends of Verde River Greenway. It’s our tenth anniversary year! Friends has grown from all volunteer and Board-led group in the early days to a professional, staff-run nonprofit. We expanded our focus from a small state park (Verde River Greenway) to the over 6,600-square mile watershed of the Verde River. 

The initial Board of Directors were Delbert “Chip” Norton (President), Tony Gioia (Vice-President), Marsha Foutz (co-Secretary), Peggy Chaikin (co-Secretary), Diane Joens (Treasurer), Bob Rothrock, Jane Moore, and Steven “Max” Castillo. Of the original directors, we are fortunate that four of them served on the Board until this year. One of our founders, Tony, is still on the Board. Chip, Marsha, and Peggy rotated off in June when their terms expired. We miss their guiding wisdom!

Also in 2011, a group of federal and state land managers, wildlife management agencies, businesses, academics, nonprofit organizations, and others got together and adopted a plan to restore the riverside ecosystem of the Verde and its tributary streams. This group is the Verde Watershed Restoration Coalition. Friends manages the Coalition and the crews that do much of the restoration work planned by Coalition members. 

Over the past decade, some 200 Conservation Corps youth and military veterans have worked with us to restore 10,357 acres of riverside forest to native vegetation. The target invasive plants are non-native, invasive giant reed or Arundo, tamarisk, Russian olive, and tree of heaven. With these plants removed, native trees like Fremont Cottonwood and Goodding Willows regrow on the streambanks. The native plants provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for many birds and other animals like river otters. 

“People started fishing as soon as we finished restoring the area. One even caught a really big bass.  They were so grateful for what we do.”

– Kevin, Arizona Conservation Corps

A large part of the Verde is remote wilderness. In these places, crews often hike for miles carrying equipment and provisions with little outside support. During the winter of 2018/2019 crews worked on over 1,500 acres along 20 river miles from Granite Creek to Lower TAPCO. 

In this remote area, we had some special support. Thumb Butte Bed and Breakfast, located near the headwaters of the Verde in Chino Valley, provided access to the upper reaches for crews to start the downstream trek. Once crews got below Perkinsville, the Verde Canyon Railroad dropped equipment and supplies to pre-determined spots along the train’s route. It is unique partnerships like these that make river restoration work possible.

Restoration is hard but rewarding work. We often have crew members who come back year after year. Some of them even take on wildlands restoration as a career. We’ve hired many of them for full time seasonal or year-round work.

“I grew up fishing and boating the Verde River. I’m grateful to the donors who give back by protecting our natural resources to sustain a healthier future.” 

– Jake Phelps, Crew Leader and current Field Supervisor

In 2016 Friends of the Verde River teamed up with The Nature Conservancy, and Environmental Defense Fund to create the Verde River Exchange (VRE). We had help from the Walton Family Foundation and Bonneville Environmental Foundation. The VRE connects businesses willing to temporarily reduce their water usage with others seeking to reduce the impacts of the water usage. The first buyers of water offset credits were Page Springs Vineyards and Merkin Vineyards. As of 2021, we will have increased the number of buyers to fifteen and kept over 19 million gallons of water flowing in the Verde River.

In 2017 we had another milestone. Three organizations with similar missions merged: Friends of Verde River Greenway, Verde River Valley Nature Organization, and Verde River Basin Partnership. That is when we became Friends of the Verde River. 

We issued the first Verde Watershed Report Card in 2020 and launched River Friendly Living this year. We’ve convened countless meetings and conferences to ensure our work is truly collaborative. We have mobilized countless volunteers who work to restore habitat and promote the Verde River to the public. 

Today, the mission of Friends of the Verde River is to work collaboratively for a healthy, flowing Verde River system. We want rivers that support our natural environment, vibrant communities, and quality of life for future generations. 

We focus our work on restoring habitat, sustaining river flows, and building supportive communities. We use a combination of “boots-on-the-ground” project work and developing policy solutions guided by sound conservation principles to meet the needs of people and the environment.

This has truly been a community effort and labor of love for the many people who want to see the Verde River flowing and healthy long into the future. Happy tenth anniversary to Friends of the Verde River!

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