Become a parks partner

By Chris Cawein
Director, Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation

It takes a lot of people to manage a quarter-million acres of conservation lands, more than four dozen parks, 25 trailheads, community centers, pools, shooting ranges and a 140-mile multiuse path called the Chuck Huckelberry Loop.

It’s why Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation has tried to get creative when it comes to stretching financial resources and personnel. By enlisting the help of volunteers, entering into public-private partnerships and connecting community members with philanthropic opportunities, we’ve been able to do more with less.


Where would we be without the hundreds of civic-minded volunteers and organizations that help us add a vital dimension to the lives of our residents and visitors? Each year more than 2,100 volunteers log some 23,000 hours of service on behalf of our Parks Department. That’s the equivalent of having 11 full-time employees to assist staff as tour guides at one of our heritage parks, to lead nature walks or to pull invasive buffelgrass through the Environmental Education and Interpretive Program.

Volunteers range from teens to seniors. Earlier this spring, for example, our trails department partnered with students at Catalina Foothills High School to help build hiking trails in the Painted Hills area of Tucson Mountain Park.  Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists (SDMB) helped NRPR develop and build the first competition course for mountain bikes in Southern Arizona at the McKenzie Ranch Trails Park and continues to help us advance our trail building program. Read the related article in this issue of Pima Green Valley GardenersCounty FYI to find more trail-building opportunities this spring. 

We’re lucky Tucson remains a retirement destination because we make use of those retirees! Historic Canoa Ranch in Green Valley asks volunteers to lead guided tours of the property, to help with light restoration and construction work, or to maintain the beautiful gardens as part of our partnership with the Green Valley Gardeners. And our Shooting Sports Program runs like a well-oiled machine thanks to the 50-plus volunteers who work as rangemasters, safety officers and more, logging more than 7,000 hours of donated time – the equivalent of three-and-a-half full-time staff members.

Public-Private Partnerships

We’ve also had the opportunity to enhance our park operations by joining forces with corporate partners and community foundations. For example, in the next year or so, you’ll see a beautiful natural resource park take shape at 36th Street and Kino Parkway. Tucson Electric Power purchased part of the land for a substation, and proceeds from this sale not only provide us with the capital funds to develop the park and build amenities, but also to maintain it for  the first 10 years of operation.   

These public-private partnerships take many forms:


Chris Cawein in splash padWe’re fortunate that individuals and foundations who love our parks and open spaces have chosen to invest in them. Last summer, Chandler Warden, who oversees the charitable work of his family’s philanthropic organization, the Bert W. Martin Foundation, gave $200,000 so we could complete a splash pad at Winston Reynolds-Manzanita Park.

Now the young – and young at heart – can enjoy water cannons, snake sprays, and a 20-foot-high “Big Tsunami” water bucket.

Some of our parks have “friends groups” or private foundations that raise money for park improvements. Friends of Agua Caliente Park support the preservation of the park’s historic nature and buildings and raises money for amenities such as decorative signage and benches. 

The seniors of Baja Sporting Club, Inc. initially raised funds to build Canoa Preserve Park in Green Valley and continue to raise money for the maintenance and over seeding of the athletic fields at the park’s Chuck Catino Softball Complex.

Park lovers don’t have to create a foundation or join a group to show their support. They can fund a memorial bench in honor of a loved one or give to the Pima County Parklands Foundation. The non-profit group supports initiatives such as water safety programs and swimming lessons for needy children. Funds are always directed however the donor chooses.

In addition to our external partners, NRPR works with fellow Public Works departments, especially the Regional Flood Control District, on projects such as Canoa Lake and the maintenance of the Chuck Huckelberry Loop

All of us at Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation know we cannot name everyone here, but suffice to say there are many “invaluable partnerships” that allow us to expand the levels of services offered to the community. These are your parks, community centers, pools and trails. We welcome your partnership to improve and expand them for the benefit of all of Pima County.

Top: The Green Valley Gardeners are valuable partners in helping to maintain the gardens at Historic Canoa Ranch.
Bottom: Chris Cawein (blue shirt) gets soaked by the Big Tsunami water bucket at the Warden Family Splash Pad at Winston Reynolds-Manzanita Park.
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