Imagine a place where you can float down a river on an inner tube, passing quaint shops, a hotel and restaurants while you enjoy the breeze and cool water.
Well, if the Greenlee County Tourism Council gets its way, that place will one day be a four-mile stretch of the San Francisco River in Clifton.
In fact, just last week council chairman Phil Ronnerud applied for a $100,000 grant from the Freeport-McMoRan Community Investment Fund that could pay for a hydraulic feasibility study and a comprehensive plan for the “Frisco Float and Trail.”
The idea for the float and trail has been around for about a decade and there will no doubt be challenges, but if successful, it would be an economic boon for the area, giving locals something to do, creating business opportunities for residents and drawing in tourists, Ronnerud said.
Ideally, the project could incorporate the community garden, the US 191 bridge park, ball fields, RV parks, the Blue Door Sanctuary and existing trails, he said.
The Town of Clifton spent two years working on its general plan and those who participated all agreed they needed to explore the possibility of creating more recreation possibilities along the San Francisco River. The general plan easily passed during the latest election.
Because it’s in the floodplain, Ronnerud said there will be FEMA and other requirements to meet.
“I’m looking at hiring several consultants to help shape this and fashion it and then do a summary report and have public meetings,” Ronnerud said.
According to Ronnerud, the plan will have to be “fashioned within the context of regulations and related agreements, be economically viable, and be extremely low maintenance. Ideally, any development activity must help pay for the maintenance and enhance the environment and flood resiliency. Existing uses and structures must be maintained and if possible enhanced.”
“We’ve got to get something on the ground. We’ve got to get something on paper. We’ve got to get buy-in from the community and then we can take it and go forward with the rest of the stuff,” he said.
If Freeport turns them down, Ronnerud said he would simply ask why and try again next year. In the meantime, he has every intention of approaching private foundations and pursuing other grant funding. Already, the council is working closely with the Gila Watershed Partnership on the project.
His “gut feeling” is the project will cost $1.5-$2.5 million, Ronnerud said.
A’kos Kovach, council vice-chair, said San Antonio and Oklahoma City have both turned their rivers into major attractions and he believes the San Francisco River can also become a “great place to eat, drink and be merry.”
He envisions businesses along the river that will cater to fishermen, backpackers, equestrians, birders and trail bikers because there are plenty of opportunities for all of them right in the area.
“Our name is now in the hat and we’ll just have to see if we’re one of the ones that’s selected to proceed,” Kovach said.
If successful, the project will change the area forever, Ronnerud said.
“For the future generations this will be an amentity that the locals can use, plus it will draw visitors into the county,” Ronnerud said. “We don’t have anything here to draw people and that’s what we want to do. That’s why it’s coming through the tourism council.”