After pandemic precautions shut it down for more than a year, the Historic Canoa Ranch is back open this fall with a full line-up of events, featuring a concert, a car show and a Christmas light special.

But to pull it all together, they’ll need some helping hands.

With vaccination numbers up and the arrival of snowbirds imminent, Green Valley Council President Debbie Kenyon said the park is on track to see more than 100,000 visitors by the end of the year. Last year, that figure was closer to 84,000.

Anticipating this year’s return, the Friends of Canoa Parks has been tasked with welcoming the community back.

The Friends, a volunteer group of the Green Valley Council Foundation, support the efforts of Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation at the ranch through community outreach and fundraising.

Given the beauty of the venue, Martha Van Vactor, who heads the Friends’ events committee, said her group has been embracing the opportunity to host more outdoor events, especially concerts, on the grounds as pandemic restrictions ease.

“It is the best place we have around here for an outdoor concert,” she said, citing the accessible bathrooms, spacious lawns and shade trees. “If you ever wanted to get up and move around, you can get up and stroll around this beautiful area, and it doesn’t get much nicer than that.”

October’s concert on the ranch will also include alcohol and concessions for sale – a first for the park, and something the Friends see being part of many events in the future.

“As long as we are comfortable facilitating it, we’re thinking of applying for a government permit so there’s a blanket clearance to provide concessions at concerts moving forward,” Kenyon said.

Because the event will be the first to have concessions, the Friends are anticipating needing a few more people to help manage check-in and hand out wristbands.

Similar help will be needed during November’s Canoa Cup Car Show, which Kenyon said is expected to draw 500 people from across the region.

“We get a lot of families, and may get a lot of first-time visitors, so just having someone with a Friends hat on that can stroll the park, point people to restrooms and such, that would be a huge help,” Kenyon said.

A portion of proceeds from each event held at the ranch goes directly to fund restoration and preservation projects at the ranch, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So far this year, the Friends have invested those funds in additional outdoor lighting on the ranch and a 10-foot Christmas tree that will be a centerpiece in the ramada at this year’s inaugural Christmas at Canoa.

Due to the pandemic, the winter light show just got a test run last year, but the park still drew about 1,000 curious onlookers and nearly $2,000 in donations.

“If there was anything enjoyable about last year, it was walking the parks and seeing the lights,” Kenyon said.

Details for this year’s event are still being nailed down, but organizers are working to book holiday entertainment for the first three Saturday evenings in December, and are aiming to officially turn the lights on by Dec. 4.

Saturday evenings will likely be ticketed – around $5 at the gate – but the park will be open with extended hours during the week for visitors to freely stroll through the lights.

“We’re very excited, and we love that it’s another opportunity to get people out there together celebrating the holidays again,” Kenyon said.

Work crew

Though the 5,000-acre Canoa Parks system in Green Valley is managed by Pima County, Kenyon emphasized that it really “belongs” to the community.

“The Friends really speak to the fact that though the park is county-owned, it is enriched by the people around it. It’s a gathering place, it’s a social hub, and we’re excited to engage more with the community around that,” she said.

In addition to fundraising and events help, the Friends are also looking to build up recurring volunteer positions at the Ranch, including a work crew to help with trail and grounds maintenance and a greeter and cashier for the Visitor Center and gift shop.

All positions are flexible, and require only a few hours per week, but present even more opportunities for the community to get involved in life on the ranch, Kenyon said.

“I think volunteering is a great way to foster the Friends, to engage with people, and really it’s just another great opportunity to talk up our wonderful park,” Kenyon said.

Those interested in volunteering at any of the upcoming events at Canoa Ranch can visit bit.ly/3kWNguL for more information, or contact the Green Valley Council at info@gvcouncil.org or (520) 648-1936.

The next Friends of the Canoa Parks meeting is 9 a.m. Oct. 26, in the Anza Room at the Santa Rita Springs Recreation Center. For more information on joining the Friends, visit: bit.ly/FriendsofCanoa.

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Mary Glen Hatcher | 520-547-9740

Mary Glen is a North Carolina native who's excited to explore the Tucson area through her reporting with Green Valley News. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media in 2019.