May 2024
Broad Support for Protecting the Upper Verde
Local coalition boosting Wild and Scenic River designation through Congress

The initiative to give the Upper Verde River the Wild and Scenic designation has broad support both across Yavapai County and nationally — but is it enough to get the support of Congress?

The designation can only come from Congress, and the Wild Verde River Coalition has been working on this for years, for many in the group more than a decade. It used an April 5 Wild Rivers Film Tour at the Elks Theatre in Prescott to raise funds to help urge lawmakers to support the measure.

Anyone who has been to the Upper Verde wants to return to enjoy its recreation and natural beauty. The new designation would protect the river in five ways: banning dams and water-development projects, ensuring water quality, protecting its outstanding value, including scenery, culture, recreation and wildlife, ensuring that the river has minimum flow necessary to maintain those values, and requiring the US Forest Service to develop a comprehensive river-management plan.

The designation will not restrict development on private land, affect livestock grazing, hunting or fishing, prohibit motorized vehicles, alter water rights or affect access to recreation.

Joe Trudeau, a Prescott resident and member of the Wild River Verde Coalition on behalf of the Wilderness Society, said the pursuit of the Wild and Scenic River designation for the Verde River and Sycamore Creek is picking up steam.

“We’ve received endorsements from a spectacular list of businesses, government bodies, and conservation groups – from hyperlocal to national scale. We’ve had very productive conversations with members of Congress, and we remain committed to engage in honest dialogue with them. Nobody has spoken out in opposition to this designation, which I think reflects how much people love and respect the Verde River,” he said.

Trudeau recounts why this issue is so personal to him: “My father was a homebuilder, and through my adolescent years I worked with him and my grandfather developing a beautiful little neighborhood. What made it special wasn’t just the architecture and layout, it was also that we set aside half of the acres to conservation, built a boardwalk for visitors to explore a rare wetland, and then we gave the land to the Audubon Society. What this world needs more of is balance. I’m dedicated to protecting the Verde River because Yavapai County is going to continue to grow at an increasingly rapid pace, and if we don’t take steps to protect the most special natural places out there, we will regret it beyond measure, and our grandchildren will shame us.”

Joe Trudeau

Trudeau says Prescott is blessed with amazingly diverse and vibrant surroundings. “The Upper Verde River is surprisingly one of the more underappreciated wild places we have access to. No matter your interests, be it plants, birds, fishing, long hikes, swimming holes, human history, stunning scenery, or silent prayer, the Upper Verde and Sycamore Creek are as good as it gets in Arizona. These are not mediocre, two-dimensional backdrops to our busy modern lives. These places played a huge role in this region’s human story, and they will increasingly as society learns to better honor where we came from. By honoring these rivers, we honor the best of ourselves as well.”Wild and Scenic River status is no small thing. A stream must be truly remarkable to earn the national designation. Trudeau said the Upper Verde River and its tributaries are textbook examples of why Congress created the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968.

Rachel Ellis, Associate Director of the Southwest River Protection Program for American Rivers, said the film event in Prescott was a big success as they raised a substantial amount of money for the effort and secured a number of new business supporters. Chairman Shannon Wheeler of the Nez Perce Tribe hosted a panel to discuss the feature film, Covenant of the Salmon People.

Ellis went to DC a few weeks ago with Chairwoman Tanya Lewis and Nancy Ruiz of the Yavapai Apache Nation, former Camp Verde mayor Tony Gioia, former Jerome mayor Nikki Check, Mike Fiebig from American Rivers, and Kestrel Kunz from American Whitewater. They met with US Rep. Eli Crane and the offices of Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema seeking bipartisan support for protection of the Upper Verde.

“We asked each office to work with us on developing and introducing our draft legislation for the Upper Verde Wild and Scenic River. The meetings were positive, and we’re engaged in followup conversations,” she said. A former Prescott resident, Ellis said it’s impossible to give a timeline for bills in Congress. “Bills of this nature sometimes take years to be successful, but we’re hopeful that the resounding local support for the designation will lead to designation more quickly,” she said.

Local journalist Stan Bindell also writes our hiking column.

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