A master plan has been drawn up for the Gila River Linear Park, and the Safford and Thatcher councils recently got their first look at that plan.

The Gila Watershed Partnership, the Trust for Public Land and Tucson landscape architects McGann & Associates worked together to develop the plan for a seven-mile linear park along the river’s south bank.

“Every project has a point of origin, an idea. This idea was brought forth by local citizens who saw the benefit of reconnecting the community with the river,” said Don McGann of McGann & Associates. “It’s pretty simple but very ambitious.”

The plan includes a paved pathway, a softer aggregate surface path and native soil trails leading to the river’s edge. To protect it from flood damage, the paved trail will be located farthest from the channel. The aggregate surface path, which McGann said would cost less to replace if damaged, will run closer to the river.

The park will run from Graveyard Wash, east of Safford, to Reay Lane in Thatcher and might connect to the valley’s shared-use trail system.

Other park amenities might include fitness activities, habitat restoration, interpretive exhibits, pedestrian bridges and wildlife-watching stations. There will be parking areas, restrooms and possibly ramadas.

Projected cost for the Safford stretch of the park is $2.6 million, with Thatcher’s estimated at $1.7 million. The park could be built in phases instead of all at once.

“This would be a good project to have, as well as an asset. I think it will be utilized quite a bit,” said Safford Mayor Jason Kouts. “The only thing that scares me is the $2.6 million. We need to partner up with some big hitters out there.”

Gila Watershed Partnership Executive Director Melanie Tluczek reassured him on that count.

“There are big hitters out there. Michael (Trust for Public Land Senior Project Manager Michael Patrick) and I are working to develop a funding plan. The hope is to bring the vast majority of that money in from the outside.”

Patrick said they were looking at several foundations and that another possible source was a federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant, which Arizona State Parks and Trails would administer.

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