Preserving Mother Earth

Vols come clean over their concerns for Papago Park

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Giving traditionally focuses on the few most-celebrated holidays of the year, but a handful of Tempe residents insist the gift of their time and energy contributes to a lower-profile
but likewise worthy cause: Keeping Papago Park litter free.

So it should come as no surprise that these folks will mobilize their efforts again this year as part of Earth Day, being observed Monday, April 22. The effort gets under way at 9 a.m. and rewards volunteers—in addition to the satisfaction they receive from supporting their own little corner of Mother Earth—with free breakfast, beverages and snacks.

The effort, Clean Up Papago, will provide buckets, gloves, hand sanitizer and trash grabbers
to volunteers. (Participants are being advised to come dressed to spend a couple of hours outdoors making the beautiful park look even better). At the same time, they can expect to find a mini expo featuring local vendors, surprises and giveaways—along with receiving a raffle ticket for a chance to win outdoor gear, apparel, accessories and other prizes.

Papago Park spans more than 500 acres of open desert shared by Tempe and Phoenix. Six years ago, in 2018, Tempe voted to make the park and its surrounding area a preserve, with all accompanying protections afforded by the designation. After making its status official, it didn’t take long for the Clean Up Papago group to form, with volunteers quick to jump on board.

In 2022, for example, volunteers removed more than 2,000 pounds of trash from the preserve. Officially behind the effort has been the loosely organized Clean Up Papago initiative, an organization dedicated to maintaining a clean environment and caring for the Papago trail systems while fostering community engagement and environmental stewardship in Tempe and Phoenix. Clean Up Papago, a non-Profit organization, has taken responsibility not only for ongoing maintenance efforts but by adopting what it describes as an all-encompassing vision of caring for the area’s trail systems.

Among purposes stated by the group:

• Organizing clean-up events and raising awareness on the importance of caring for the desert Preserve.
• Partnering with the city of Tempe to address illegal dumping and remove bulk litter from the Preserve.
• Creating a network of trail-user advocates to engage in informal outreach with other trail users.
• Collaborating with bike brands and other organizations to host trail days, with a goal of proposing spider trails and maintaining existing trail systems.

Progress so far Clean Up Papago has been actively collaborating with the city to ensure the
preservation and enhancement of what it refers to as its “beloved natural oasis” noting that Tempe is currently collecting feedback on a future Papago Preserve Management Plan.

At a meeting late last year, city officials hosted a public meeting to discuss the intent and goals of the plan, during which planners’ vision and objectives were outlined.

Among those:

• Identifying specific management areas within the preserve.
• Integrating sustainable recreation opportunities for everyone.
• Seeking partnerships to conserve the preserve’s unique environment.
• Emphasizing the importance of preserving cultural and historical landmarks within the preserve, recognizing its significance to the O’Odham (Pima) and Piipash (Maricopa) communities.

According to a summary provided by those who attended, the presentation shed light on the expansive Papago Preserve, which covers approximately 227 acres. It encompasses SRP facilities, ASU buildings, utility lines and pedestrian bridges. The area offers opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, gravel riding. The preserve is also home to cultural gems such as Lo Piano, Loma del Rio ruins.

Additionally, the city is actively engaged in cultural resource considerations, conducting a Class III survey, tribal outreach, and Traditional Cultural Property study to ensure the
preservation of archaeological sites and cultural heritage. Also discussed were allocations from the city’s capital budget to support the Preserve Management Plan, ensuring that this initiative has the necessary resources to succeed.

Currently, according to sources, the city planners are seeking input from the community to actively participate in shaping the area’s future, including what are described as key priorities.

Among those:

• Official Trail Map: Development of an official trail map to eliminate spider trails, ensuring a clear and safe trail system for all park users.
• Solid Signage System: Implementation of a signage system that guides visitors  effectively, enhancing their experience and minimizing any confusion.
• Inclusive Trail Design: Creation of trails that accommodate a wide range of park users, including hikers, bikers, bird watchers and more, fostering a sense of inclusivity and accessibility, including preservation of the current Papago Jumps (Marigold and cross-cut canal intersection) and creation of an official and secure mountain biking skills area.
• Desert Replanting: Desert replanting efforts to restore and protect the unique desert ecosystem of Papago Preserve.

According to statements from the community group working toward the area’s improvement, insights from residents is vital to “helping inform the management plan, ensuring that it aligns with community needs, values, and aspirations.”

Although the official public comment period has ended, it appeared that planners would continue to hear suggestions and consider them as planning continues.

Said one of the group’s members: “(We can) collectively contribute to creating a more vibrant, sustainable, and accessible preserve for current and future generations to enjoy.”



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