A nationwide nonprofit dedicated to increasing public access to open space is working with the Town of Chino Valley and numerous other local partners to purchase a 1,000-acre ranch within its borders for a new state park, which includes the headwaters of the Verde River and the site of the first territorial capital of Arizona.
Del Rio Springs Ranch is on the northeastern edge of the Town and contains several environmentally and historically significant features that factor into its suitability for a state park, including a rail bed that could extend the Prescott Peavine Trail to a total of 21 miles and century-old structures tied to farming and tourism.
The Greater Chino Valley Collaborative (GCVG) is a coalition of agencies and advocacy groups that has been working to increase outdoor recreation opportunities in the region. Members include the Town of Chino Valley, Yavapai County, the U.S. Forest Service, Nature Conservancy, Yavapai Trails Association and the Trust for Public Land (TPL), which has completed multiple projects along the upper Verde River.
Michael Patrick, senior project manager for TPL, said when he began learning more about the Del Rio Springs Ranch land by talking to locals he quickly realized its significance: “From all these different perspectives I learned just how important this property is, and I have to say in over 20 years, I’ve never had one that had so many different elements to it.”
Historical and ecological layers
The land lies on the east side of AZ-89 and most of it stretches from Road 5 N., north past Del Rio Springs Road and contains the springs itself, which provided water to Prescott, Ash Fork and other communities.
The land includes the historical marker for the first territorial capital, which is also the original site of Fort Whipple, as well as a series of barns and stone buildings built by the Fred Harvey Company when it produced milk, eggs, meat and other food to be served at its string of higher-end hotels between Los Angeles and St. Louis including El Tovar at the Grand Canyon.
A smaller parcel is a bit farther to the north and surrounds Sullivan Lake, considered the beginning of the Verde as it flows east and then south. Patrick said the state park would make the lake and much of the Upper Verde River more accessible and appealing to the public.
“Part of our work is to do some restoration work, and Sullivan Lake is maybe the best illustration of that because we have one cottonwood tree out there and we’re hoping to be able to restore that and create a nature preserve and have something that’s deserving of mile zero of the Verde River, something that’s there for people to go out and experience,” he said.
The land currently is zoned for agricultural, light commercial and multiple family uses, and previous plans have called for up to 1,400 homes.
Local officials believe the state park could fuel more economic development in and around Chino Valley that could benefit the whole region. Maggie Tidaback, the town’s economic development director, said officials are hoping to bring some of the approximately $862 million spent annually on outdoor recreation in the U.S. to the Town while helping to create a community amenity that could help attract investment and jobs.
Finding the funding
TPL has the land under contract and has until Oct. 4 to secure enough funding to commit to the purchase, after which the land would be donated to the state parks system. With support from the collaborative and nearby communities, the GCVC is seeking funding from several sources to develop the state park while starting preliminary design work.
The new Arizona state budget approved by the legislature and Gov. Katie Hobbs includes $7 million allocated for the purchase and development of the state park. Additional money could come from the Arizona State Parks Board and federal government. The owner is donating some of the land value.
Patrick said public meetings to get input on the park’s design are being planned for July and August.