Forest Service Moves To Protect East Verde

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Whew. Let us catch our breaths. Not used to all this bustle. But don’t get us wrong — we’re not complaining.

The Tonto National Forest has moved with wondrous alacrity to protect the East Verde River. Already, they’ve started work out on Houston Mesa Road to First Crossing and Water Wheel. The Forest Service has started work on developing parking lots and nice toilets for four recreation areas along that precious, but beleaguered creek.

Granted, the creek has needed protection for years.

Further, the Water Wheel Fire scared us nearly witless — since only a swirling, wind-blown fluke of fate spared Beaver Valley and Whispering Pines from destruction.

The East Verde River remains this area’s crown jewel — although it’s been mistaken for costume jewelry for years. Not many places in Arizona can boast a reliable, year-round stream with an intact, cottonwood willow habitat — the most diverse and productive ecosystem in North America.

Better yet, the Salt River Project from now on will be running some 11,000 acre-feet of water annually down the creek to get water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir down to the Verde River and on to Phoenix.

Properly protected, the East Verde can provide an anchor for the tourist industry that remains such a mainstay for our economy. But up until now, the stream has been abused and neglected.

For proof of that neglect and the potentially tragic consequences, look no further than the recent history of Water Wheel — a wonderful spot, woefully misused. The Forest Service made no effort to regulate use there, leaving the most careless of the campers to scatter their litter and improvise toilets on the banks of the creek.

So it’s no surprise the Water Wheel Fire started across the road from the camping area. We’re lucky the wind’s caprice spared the community, but the silt that has sludged into the stream has underscored the painful lesson. But that’s water down the creek.

The point here is that some clever folks in the Payson Ranger District had the smarts to apply for grants totaling some $300,000 to build a chain of recreational sites that will ultimately protect the creek.

We do not know whether they’ll allow camping or restrict the area to day use only, nor what sort of day-use fee they might impose. Hopefully, they’ll offer some reasonable annual pass for residents.

The main point remains that the Forest Service has made an essential move to protect a resource vital not only to our economy — but to the love of beautiful, wild places that brought us all here.

Turn tragedy into hope

A suicide. A crippling disease. A terrible challenge. But also a wonderful inspiration — at least when you live in a place with the kinds of great-hearted people we have in Rim Country.

You don’t have to look far to find evidence that we live in a wonderful town, full of people who understand love of community and a need to get up every time they knock you down.

That’s the comforting notion that struck us as we leafed through Tuesday’s paper.

Consider a couple of the headlines.

About a year ago, Lauree Moffett’s son committed suicide — in one of those incomprehensible moments of despair to which so many young people are prone. That terrible loss could have broken and embittered her. Instead, she worked hard to make sense of the loss by reaching out to help other families. So she organized a local walk to raise awareness of the need to prevent suicide, the fourth-leading cause of death among young people. More than 100 people turned out for the march and raised $3,000 for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

Lauree turned her loss into a blessing for others.

Come to think of it, that’s just what Justice McNeeley’s folks did. Justice suffers from a debilitating form of muscular dystrophy. Faced with this enormous challenge, his mother, Katie Parks, could have turned inward. Instead, she turned outward. So several years ago, they started a foundation to help Rim Country children and started the Justice McNeeley Foundation Poker Run in Pine.

Last week, more than 100 ATV riders turned out for a day of great, community-building fun that also raised $5,000, which will go to buy wheelchairs, assist struggling families and help children. In the past five years, the event has raised a total of $35,000 to help kids.

These two events offer two great lessons.

First, terrible things happen — over which we have no control. But while we can’t change those things, love and courage can turn even tragedy to hope.

Second, what a wonderful place to live — brimming with people like Lauree and Katie and Justin and the hundreds of people who turned out on an ordinary day to prove they cared.

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