Pima County is eyeing its next steps in reclaiming the former Canoa Hills Golf Course, and they want Green Valley to chime in on the park's future.
Green Valley Council President Debbie Kenyon watched the county's progress since a deal to turn the area from a neglected and overgrown golf course to an open space park began. And Kenyon said the project is a rare opportunity for the Green Valley community.
In April 2018, county supervisors voted 4-1 to accept the 130-acre golf course as a donation from Morgan North. North bought Canoa Hills in 2014. At that time, the golf course was already closed for a year. In December 2018, North signed the park over to Pima County, but turning the area into a safe, open-space park still lay ahead.
Clearing the land
In addition to being GVC's president, Kenyon is an organizer with Friends of the Canoa Parks, a volunteer organization that helps coordinate community support for Canoa Hills Trails-An Open Space Park, Canoa Preserve Park and the Historic Canoa Ranch.
The Friends are also a fledgling organization still in the development stages. Kenyon has been with them since the Regional Flood Control District took over the area.
"At the inception, when the Flood Control District took possession of it, it had been abandoned for several years," she said. "The retaining walls were falling. The irrigation had been cannibalized and removed, so there were no sources of water internally except for a couple of access points."
Kenyon said the new park had significant issues with deteriorated golf cart paths and non-native overgrowth, which took over the area.
"When Flood Control took ownership of it, they did a full assessment and worked with the Park Advisory Committee that was formed," she explained. "Looked at all the things that need remediating. Parking was an issue, walkways were an issue, retaining walls were an issue. And they brought in (Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation), and they started mowing to really ascertain what the true state of the grounds were."
Flood Control landscape designer and Senior Staff Assistant Tess Wagner said restoration projects are always difficult, but Canoa Hills presents unique challenges. She said it's hard to put an exact number on how far along the county's overall progress is, but they are in the beginning stages of reclaiming the land.
"Restoration is a long process, and natural processes play a large role in how quickly the park progresses," Wagner said. "This past exceptionally dry summer certainly slowed down restoration because we do not have supplemental irrigation, and without rain, nothing can grow."
The county recently installed 600 native plants in four of the old course’s ponds. Wagner said park users had provided a lot of positive feedback on the additions.
Flood Control is also aware that residents near the park are concerned about dust. During the last monsoon season, the lack of rain prevented plants from growing, germinating or surviving to stabilize the soil.
Wagner said the county hydroseeded the driving range a few weeks ago and hopes recent rains would get enough vegetation growth to mitigate dust issues.
It wasn't just invasive plants and dry weather creating issues for Flood Control. The former golf course had structural problems the county had to fix to make the park safer for users to access.
The county removed old restrooms beyond repair and took care of deteriorating golf cart paths visitors use to navigate the park.
Kenyon said the county improved safety by focusing on the pathways and retaining walls around the park.
"They got a sizable amount of money that was a fine from Freeport-McMoRan mine, and they redid the sidewalks from the north end of the park to the south end on both sides of Camino Del Sol," she said. "And just invested a lot of time with their contractors to make the property safe."
Wagner said the county removed unnecessary and scattered railroad ties from the site, replaced failing retaining walls and installed rip-rap where erosion impacted the concrete walking paths.
The county also installed benches, trail maps and other signage throughout the park.
Wagner said Flood Control had put about $600,000 into the park so far, but there isn't an estimate on future costs at this time.
With funding always tight, the county's future improvements would likely require community support.
"RFCD has limited funds and limited staff, so volunteers become crucial in determining certain aspects of the park," she said. "Things like pollinator gardens require extra care and attention, so the level of volunteerism will help determine if these are feasible and how large they can be."
Concepts and feedback
Wagner said the Green Valley Council and Park Advisory Committee feedback had been "instrumental" in developing concepts and priorities.
Kenyon said the county was receptive to and committed to involving the community in restoring the park's natural environment.
"From my professional experience, having worked with local, state and federal agencies, the reception and communication and the partnership that we have with Flood and NRPR is exceptional," she said.
Wagner said the county is holding a public community meeting to discuss goals for the park, project status, upcoming focus areas and three preliminary master plan concepts.
The county plans to hold the Feb. 19 meeting at the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room, 130 W. Congress St., in downtown Tucson from 10 a.m. to noon, with in-person attendance limited to 34 people. The county also requires wellness checks, masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing for in-person attendance.
The public can also watch and ask questions live using the county's YouTube channel.
The county also has an online survey available through March 19 where the community can offer ideas for site features, amenities or potential park uses.
"We want to know which ideas they like and which ideas they don't like," Wagner said. "This feedback will be critical in helping us develop a final master plan that is relevant to the Green Valley community. We hope that by engaging the community in the design process, we can give them a park that is well-used and well-loved."