A lover of the outdoors, Melanie Tluczek was thrilled to take on two challenges when she arrived to the Gila Valley - creating a large recreational park and preserving the ecological wonders of the area.
Tluczek, 42, Gila Watershed Partnership director, moved to Graham County in 2017 with her family. She has a master’s degree in wildlife ecology and a bachelor's in cultural anthropology. Before working at the GWP, she was employed at the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy as a field manager.
The GWP is a nonprofit organization working to improve the water quality of the Gila River and its ecosystem in Graham and Greenlee counties. The partnership has a greenhouse open to the public on weekdays, consisting of seedlings for ecosystem restoration and public plant sales.
When not working at the nonprofit GWP, Tluczek volunteers with the South East Arizona Clean and Beautiful and Safford Lions Club.
Susan Elsberry met her in 2017.
“Melanie has devoted countless hours to local and regional volunteer activities in support of crucial environmental and biologic issues and service to the community. As a working mother, even prior to pandemic responsibilities, she also gave her time and talents to organizations such as the Lions Club and the GFWC Woman’s Club of Safford,” Elsberry said. “In simplest terms, Melanie is a giver, not a taker. It is difficult to bring a feminine sensibility to an increasingly complex work environment without shortchanging family, home and the workplace.”
Tluzek rises to the challenge of providing leadership and empathy, Elsberry said.
“No worthwhile individual works to achieve honors; honors accrue due to the diligence of their work and commitment," Elsberry said.
Tluczek moved to Graham County looking for an opportunity to expand her career and said she has since found she likes the community, the nonprofit and the GWP board members.
“You have to be creative and resourceful. That’s what I enjoy about working with small nonprofits,” she said.
Kara Barron, science and outreach manager at GWP, said she believes Tluczek deserves recognition for improving the watershed and her volunteerism. Also, she applauds Tluczek’s efforts to help the GWP and community involved with the Linear Park project.
The Linear Park will be a seven-mile park along the Gila River’s south bank from Graveyard Wash, east of Safford, to Reay Lane in Thatcher and might connect to the valley’s shared-use trail system..
The proposed park will include a paved pathway, a softer aggregate surface path and native soil trails leading to the river’s edge. It could also include fitness activities, habitat restoration, interpretive exhibits, pedestrian bridges and wildlife-watching stations. There could also be parking areas, restrooms and possibly ramadas.
“She is spearheading efforts to make the planned Linear Park a reality that benefits everyone involved,” Barron said.
As one of Tluczek’s employees, Barron said she appreciates the care she expresses for her staff, especially lately with COVID-19.
“She bought washable 3-ply masks for staff and volunteers and makes sure we have disposable masks to wear if we forget our own so we can work without worry,” she said. “She allows us to work from home, if possible, too. She doesn't just lead, either, she gets down in the trenches. She gets under those thorny shrubs at the clean-ups and will do the tough things others may not want or be equipped to do. If she can't do it herself, she will figure out who can and make sure they are contacted, if possible.”
Tluczek said she is fascinated by the GWP mission statement.
“I’m fascinated with the mission to not only improve and benefit the environment, but it does it in a way it’s a benefit to the community and economy,” she said.
The future is bright for the Linear Park, and Tluczek said she is excited as the park’s growth and development. The park will be utilized by the community and serve as a space for native plant species, she said.
“I am proud of the organization of a whole,” she said. “I have learned while being here that there are a lot of challenges rural communities face. Larger communities have larger revenue streams from larger populations.”
During her time in Graham and Greenlee counties, Tluczek said she has grown to understand the challenges rural nonprofits face and how to work around those challenges, she said.
Tluczek said she is grateful to have found a home here.
“I have really enjoyed living in Southeast Arizona, and working in Graham and Greenlee counties,” she said. “I’m thankful that we are here.”