Volunteer Corner: Finding respite at beautiful local park

Desert Meadows Park, off Abrego Drive and just north of Continental Road.

Desert Meadows Park has provided tranquility for many of those battling the effects of isolation during the pandemic. Surrounded by incredible natural beauty, hundreds of visitors have appreciated a simple quiet stroll there, a reflective respite from the bombardment of bad news.

Green Valley Gardeners put their hearts and hardworking hands into creating an unrivaled backdrop, an enriched ambiance of bright blooming blossoms, art work, and winding paths leading to places to pause. Cars are lined up with walkers and birdwatchers who, with social distancing in mind, find a little refreshment for the soul amid the crisis that seems to never end.

When you’re stuck inside and most of your daily existence has somersaulted, even just a short visit in a setting like this can be something to savor.

“People were very thankful we could keep it open,” said Chuck Parsons, who has been the visionary and driving force behind the Green Vally Gardeners' project, along with Elissa Dearing who manages the community garden that supplies local food banks.

The group garnered grants of $116,000 in 2014 and $67,000 in 2017 from Freeport-McMoRan. That money, along with additional support from the Green Valley Foundation, White Elephant, and local Chamber of Commerce, helped make the 4-acre site a unique and high profile destination in person and on the Web.

The park earned certification as an arboretum in 2018, and tourists have added it to their itineraries. Some have produced YouTube videos extolling its singularity. “They say it’s different than any other park they have seen,” Parsons noted.

Green Valley Gardeners boasts 560 volunteers working this and other projects all over the community. Although 35 have either adopted a portion of the park or perform a regular task there, not all work in the dirt. Some display their talents with art pieces, landscape design, the newsletter, or their annual Art in the Park program. You don’t even have to be a club member to volunteer, Parsons says. You can just come by, check it out and see where your talents and interests might fit.

Volunteers put in 4,500 hours and spend $12,000 a year to maintain the park. They also grow 3,400 pounds of produce for food banks. But perhaps the biggest benefit has been the hours of solace and comfort for a beleaguered public in the midst of a crisis.

“We recognized that people have been shut in,” Parsons acknowledged, “so we have been doing everything we can to keep the park safe for people to get outdoors, and one of the perks as a volunteer is that people will stop and thank us for what we’re doing.”

After Green Valley Recreation closed its facilities, the park soon became a spot for clubs and other organizations. Dog walkers enjoy five doggie stations with water bowls and bags provided by the club, and there are four drinking fountains that cyclists and hikers along the Anza Trail often use. More plants mean a steady increase of little critter sightings. You can watch birders patiently looking for the next new visitor to land.

Green Valley Gardeners' original goals were to take a vacant piece of community property to try to create a peaceful place to be with others, enjoy a walk and wildlife, and grow produce. They have, obviously, significantly exceeded those original expectations and look forward to identifying challenges ahead.

“My role now,” Parsons explained, “is to continue to maintain a vision of what the park is going to do for the community.”

Contact the Green Valley-Sahuarita Volunteer Clearinghouse at its website: gvsvolunteering.org