The Gila Watershed Partnership just received a $43,534 check from Graham and Greenlee United Way for the Linear Park, enabling Stage Two of the park’s development.

The Linear Park, which will be located on the south bank of the Gila River, north of Safford and Thatcher, has been in the talking stages since March. After a public input meeting, which took place shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak in March, the GWP group has been making connections with local governments and landowners.

Melanie Tluczek, GWP director, said the latest grant for the park will pay for the park’s plan development and land transfers.

The Gila Watershed Partnership hired Trust for Public Land to create the master plan, Tluczek said. The plan was paid for by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Freeport McMoRan Community Investment Fund.

The length of the future park along the riverbed is expected to be seven to 12 miles long. However, the area of the park is made of bits and pieces of private land located in two different government jurisdictions. Over the past six months, the GWP group has been in conversation with landowners as well as government officials in order to ensure that the land they hope will be a part of the park can be used. Also, the GWP is now partnering with the Trust for Public Land non-profit.

“This money from the United Way is to keep the process going,” Tluczek said.

The Trust for Public Land will transfer land easements to Safford or Thatcher governments. While this is going on, the grant money from the United Way will also be paying for a detailed restoration plan. The plan includes mapping where invasive species need to be removed and where native species need to be planted, Tluczek said. This stage of the park’s development is what Tluczek calls Stage Two. Danny Smith, who is on the GWP board, is excited about the involvement of the nationally-known Trust for Public Land group. He expects with their involvement there will be more funding options available. Smith said he is especially excited about the fact that the groundwork for a plan and easements will be completed.

“When the funding becomes available we will already have a plan; without it, it’s hard to raise money,” Smith said.

The end of Stage Two is scheduled for the end of 2021, Tluczek said. The finish date for the Linear Park project is roughly five to 10 years out.

The final completion date of the park is dependent upon additional funding. However, while the various stages of development are underway, Tluczek said there will be multiple cleanup opportunities around the future park site.

“It’s so important to us that the community will be involved in every level of the park,” she said.

South Eastern Arizona Clean and Beautiful will be hosting multiple cleanups along the river bed where the park will be eventually. By volunteering, locals can get an idea where the park will be and get their boots on the ground, Tluczek said.

When the is finished it will have seven to 12 miles of pathways and will include bathrooms, water bottle refill stations and solar lighting. The park may also include riparian restoration areas, small ponds, picnic tables and ramadas.

Once the project is further along, Tluczek said she plans to invite the Town of Pima to get involved.

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