Gila River Trail

Concept sketch of a segment of the Gila River Trail

THATCHER — Following a Nov. 18 Town Council vote, the Town of Thatcher will join in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Gila Watershed Partnership to develop plans for a linear park along the south bank of the Gila River.

The non-binding MOU stated that The Town of Thatcher, the City of Safford (which agreed to sign the MOU earlier this month), Graham County, the Gila Watershed Partnership, the Trust for Public Land and a variety of landowners will cooperate in designing and establishing the proposed park, to be named the Gila River Trail.

“This is an idea that has been in circulation for some time now,” GWP Executive Director Melanie Tluczek said to the council, “and the Gila Watershed Partnership was recently lucky enough to get some money to bring the idea to life.” That money was in the form of grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Freeport McMoRan.

“One of the things I firmly believe is that people will protect and respect what they love, and they love what they know. If they can’t get to the river, they don’t really know it. We want to bring them to the river,” said Tluczek. “We want to make the river an amenity. Right now, it’s sometimes used as a dumping ground or for illegal activities.”

She said the proposed park would link up with existing multi-use trails in Thatcher and Safford, and coordinate with a proposed Safford sports and recreation complex — and its benefits could include providing local jobs, attracting tourism, increased physical activity and aiding in storm water management.

The Trust for Public Land, retained by the GWP as a consultant, contracted with a Tucson landscape architecture firm, McGann & Associates, to develop a master plan proposal for $28,950. McGann’s portfolio includes Kartchner Caverns State Park and several Tucson projects including River Road.

Tluczek said no landowners had objected to the park crossing their property, but that if any should object it would be possible to reroute the trail around their land.

Town Manager Heath Brown favored signing the MOU. “I love the idea. It’s not easy to get it in there where it will stay long-term, but I’ve seen pictures of other desert rivers that have high floods and it can be done,” he said. “At this point we’re just looking at the concept, so I recommend getting on board. All we’re agreeing to do is share information and ideas.”

In other business, the council appointed Merri Aden as deputy magistrate and voted to table an update to the town’s employee handbook for further consideration.

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