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  • History of Brandi Fenton Memorial Park

    The 56.7-acre Brandi Fenton Memorial Park (BFMP) is in Pima County, north of the Rillito River at River Road and Alvernon Way. Pima County has created a unique park that balances the need for public recreation while retaining the character of the Binghampton Rural Historic Landscape through a collaborative effort involving citizens, elected officials, and Pima County staff. The park includes three soccer fields, covered basketball courts, shade ramadas, an equestrian arena and facilities, horse shoe pits, a play ground, a splash park, an off-leash dog park, walking paths, a fitness course, and a memorial garden at the visitor center. Also, BFMP hosts community programs such as Tucson Cancer Conquerors and environmental education programs on topics like historic agricultural practices, current water usage, and riparian restoration.

    As a major watercourse through the Tucson metropolitan area, the Rillito River forms an uninterrupted corridor along which wildlife can move. Additionally, the historically shallow groundwater along the Rillito supported extensive stands of riparian vegetation. Though much of this vegetation has been removed or died due to lowered water tables, Pima County and other public agencies have initiated several projects to reestablish riparian habitat along the river. As these habitat restoration projects mature, they will serve to enhance the biological value of the corridor.

    The establishment of Brandi Fenton Memorial Park will complement the biological enhancement of the river corridor. The park will serve to keep as open space nearly 60 acres of adjacent land. Most of the park site was previously cleared of native vegetation as part of historic farming and ranching operations. As such, there are no large stands of undisturbed vegetation to be preserved. There are, however, individual native plant specimens that have grown on the site. As part of the detailed design and engineering phase of the project, these plants were evaluated in accordance with Pima County Native Plant Preservation ordinances to determine if they should be preserved-in-place, transplanted, or removed. Many of the existing mature trees were salvaged either in place, or relocated within the park boundaries. Extensive additional planting was designed to enhance the preserved vegetation, all irrigated with reclaimed water sources. Within the park the installation and maintenance of native upland and riparian plant species will serve to enhance the site’s habitat value. And, as stated above, programs on environmental issues will serve to educate the community.
    Brandi Fenton Memorial Park is located on the alluvial flood plain of the Rillito River, one of the principal water courses through the Tucson Basin. The relative abundance of water on the site has created conditions favorable to human habitation and use. Pre-historic native cultures, early Anglo settlers, and more recent residents of the basin have lived on, cultivated, and used the land for a variety of human endeavors. As a result, the area contains a range of pre-historic and historic cultural resources.

    Due to the presence of existing cultural resources including structures (homes, barns, and other buildings), irrigation canal remnants, cleared agricultural field plots, hedgerows, and landscape plantings, certain lands within and surrounding the area were nominated for the National Register by Pima County and, after more than a decade of work by committed community members, thus designated as a historic rural landscape in May 2003. In aggregate, these features convey to the public the history of human use of the site. Approximately 427 acres of land, including the entirety of the BFMP, are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Binghampton Rural Historic Landscape, a first in Pima County. From the onset, Pima County developed the BFMP conscience of the area’s historic landscape designation, with historical preservation and interpretation as a primary goal.

    To respect and interpret the history of the site, Pima County worked toward the following goals:

    • Preserving existing historic structures on the site through renovation and adaptive re-use.
    • Preserving existing landscape and site features on the site that contribute to the site’s historic character.
    • Installing interpretive signs and displays that convey the site’s history to park visitors.
    • Developing interpretive and educational programs related to the history of the site.
    • Re-establishing stone-fruit and nut orchards within the park site.
    • Planting field crops that can be grown in conjunction with on-going educational and interpretive programs.
    • Programming, a classroom building, and greenhouse for the implementation of educational interpretive programs related to historic and contemporary agriculture for the next phase of construction.

    Existing historic structures on the site were preserved through renovation and adaptive re-use, such as the old Davidson House which serves as an area for historical interpretation, public use, and office space. Other historical resources that have been preserved include the Post Residence, now the Caretaker House; the Garcia Residence, now the Visitor Center; the McKee Residence, now the Operations and Maintenance Facility; the Hay Barn, now the Equestrian Area Grandstand Shade Structure; and the stable, now the storage building adjacent to the playground area. Additionally, exhibits in the park provide historical information and interpretation for visitors.
    Brandi Fenton Memorial Park has been above all a cooperative, community effort, with a variety of funding sources, both public and private. On March 2, 2005, the Pima County Board of Supervisors named the park “Brandi Fenton Memorial Park at the Binghampton Historic District” to honor and commemorate the life of a young Pima County citizen who died tragically in an accident at the age of thirteen. As a way of honoring Brandi’s remarkable but all too brief life, the Fenton family initiated a public – private partnership, the Brandi Michelle Fenton Foundation, to advocate for and help fund, the development of this park. The organizers of the Private Fund Raising Activities have many reasons to be commended. Through their efforts they have provided the most private sector money for a park project in a very long time. This first phase of development was larger and accomplished on an accelerated schedule due to the efforts and support of the Foundation.

    BFMP serves as a major recreation / open space node along the Rillito River corridor. Along the Rillito and other major watercourses Pima County has developed, and continues to develop, a system of linear parks. These river parks are in-and-of themselves a valued recreation resource. They also serve to connect other parks, community facilities, schools, and residential neighborhoods. This Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department project involved the construction of a paved shared-use path, landscape development, and other improvements along the north bank of the Rillito River, from Campbell Avenue to Dodge Boulevard. A portion of the river park abuts the BFMP site. This project is of significance to the park in that it facilitates pedestrian, bicycle, and equestrian access to the park via completed portions of the Rillito River Park and connecting trails.

    Urban growth of the Tucson metropolitan area over the past century has contributed to an acute need for public park facilities; historically, Binghampton was founded 7 miles north of Tucson. More recent residential developments to the north and established residential neighborhoods to the south of the Rillito River Bend area have been historically underserved in terms of park and recreational facilities. Brandi Fenton Memorial Park has helped to correct these community deficiencies.
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    Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation

    3500 W. River Road
    Tucson, AZ 85741

    (520) 724-5000

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