Gila River

A linear park along the Gila River came closer to realization this month.

SAFFORD — A proposed linear park along the Gila River, including a restored riparian corridor, is one step closer to existence.

In its Nov. 12 meeting, the Safford City Council approved the city’s entry into a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Gila Watershed Partnership — a document that bids to jump-start the creation of a park/trail, to be named the Gila River Trail, along the river’s south side.

A draft of the MOU stated that the City of Safford, the Town of Thatcher, Graham County, the Gila Watershed Partnership, the Trust for Public Land, River View Properties, Freeport McMoRan, Langley Mt. Graham Mall LLC, and private landowners will cooperate in the proposed park’s design and establishment.

The Gila River Trail will initially be three to four miles long, winding past the site of a proposed City of Safford sports and recreation complex southwest of the 8th Avenue bridge; however, the park is ultimately projected to stretch from Little Hollywood to Reay Lane.

GWP Executive Director Melanie Tluczek outlined the benefits river parks could bring a community, and told the Council the project’s goals included attracting diverse users, improving the river and riverfront environment, serving as a significant community amenity and providing local jobs.

The GWP will be working with the Trust for Public Land on data collection and mapping. According to the draft MOU, the Trust for Public Land will do the real estate work needed to establish trail easements across private land, as well as contracting with a landscape architect to develop a conceptual master plan for the park.

McGann & Associates, a Tucson landscape architecture firm, is developing a master plan proposal. Tluczek told the Council a final plan was expected to be ready by the end of June 2020.

This opening phase of the project required no money from the city. It was funded by grants from Freeport McMoRan and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which were obtained by the GWP. Tluczek said those funds would start bringing the enterprise to life, adding that the GWP would find additional funding for restoration along the trail.

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