While returning from a meeting at the Northern Gila County Sanitary District (NGCSD) in 1988, Buzz Walker and Rich Williamson drove past the pastures next to Julia Randall Elementary — and had a vision.
“We looked over here and saw pasture — low lands — owned by the federal government,” Walker told a rapt audience from the Gila County Historical Society.
The two men decided that pasture could solve a mutual problem: How to replenish Payson’s groundwater while using the sanitary district’s reclaimed wastewater.
So started a years-long project that culminated in the award winning multi-purpose area dubbed Green Valley Park.
Walker said Payson’s groundwater reserves had been dwindling for years before he came on the scene in the 1970s to work for the private water company that served Payson.
“We’d been looking to Blue Ridge since 1973,”said the head of the town water department. The Town of Payson purchased the private water company in 1980 and turned it into a municipal water district.
When the cutting-edge water treatment plant (NGCSD) came on board in 1983, Walker said the federal government had very tougher restrictions on the purity of wastewater than the town had on drinking water.
“The federal government allows the town to have 10 parts per million of nitrogen in its drinking water,” said Walker. “The sanitary district can only have one part per million.”
Walker said the federal requirement allowed the town’s wastewater to flow into the Verde River, a wild and scenic river and the source of drinking water for Phoenix. However, the sanitary district staff hated just dumping the water on the ground.
“That’s pretty high quality water,” Williamson said to Walker, “can’t you find somewhere to store it?”
“Why don’t we put our heads together,” said Walker as they drove down Main Street.
The idea had to percolate for a few years before Walker did a feasibility study for the town council.
“In ’89 we developed a chintzy presentation book and showed the council,” he said. “Six liked it and one did not.”
By 1991, the Northern Gila County Sanitary District Manager Joel Goode had won a $1.5 million grant. Walker received a $400,000 federal grant to do the engineering work on Walker’s dream: A park with a lake with a voter-approved bond issue.
To illustrate his vision he had an artist draw a picture of a beautiful grassy park and another of a pond surrounded by a chain link fence and dirt.
“The artist said, ‘Are you sure you want this? It looks awful!’
“I told him if we did not get the funding for a park, it would look awful,” said Walker.
In 1992, Payson voters approved issuing $3 million in bonds for the project.
Since the completion of the project in 1996, the multi-use area has gained the attention of people worldwide.
“We’ve won international and national awards,” said Walker of the park, water reclamation, museum and event center space.
Now the town can safely shoot off fireworks without worrying about starting a house on fire or have concerts on the weekends.
“We used to shoot off fireworks at Rumsey Park when it was the rodeo grounds or at the high school,” said Walker. He said the firemen always wanted to cancel the event because of the danger, but the town went ahead anyway.
Now, there are no worries and a beautiful peaceful place for people to visit.