Rapids and bluffs near Sycamore Creek
Verde River Rapids and bluffs near Sycamore Creek © Alan W. Eckert

Newsroom

Creative Conservation Protects Your Water, Food and Fun

Diverse partners join forces on project that benefits people and nature.

Phoenix, Arizona

A celebration is underway following an historic agreement that helps secure your food and water sources as well as ensure you can float and fish a scenic river. Park Central Farm—the largest farm in the Verde Valley—has collaborated with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and other partners to conserve and protect three miles of the Verde River ensuring the river and critical habitat are now protected in perpetuity. 

This news is especially important in light of the winter drought and ongoing concerns about how warmer and drier weather will impact the quality and quantity of our water. The Verde River supplies drinking water to 14 rural communities and nearly 3 million people in the Phoenix metropolitan area, yet in recent years, the river’s flow has reached historic lows. 

“The Nature Conservancy has been working with partners to develop innovative projects—such as the Verde River Exchange and irrigation efficiency—to increase the flow of the Verde River to ensure people and nature thrive together,” says Patrick Graham, Arizona’s Nature Conservancy director. “Arizona’s water challenges will be solved by people of good intention working together. This historic agreement, only made possible through collaboration and partnerships, is a leading example.” 

The four partners –Hauser & Hauser Farms, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) and TNC, finalized a voluntary land agreement that will prevent future development on Park Central Farm. It is a 595-acre property that encompasses 230 acres of a healthy cottonwood-willow forest along the river corridor. 

The area serves as a critical corridor between the Coconino and Prescott National Forests. Streamside forests provide a home to many species, including the southwestern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoos. Further up from the river, you’ll find bobcat, mountain lion and mule deer. 

“The Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Department are always pleased to partner with those interested in conserving and protecting our state’s wildlife and the habitat they rely upon,” Commission Chairman Jim Ammons said. “Projects such as the preservation of Park Central Farm are critical to helping sustain Arizona’s unique native wildlife to ensure it is available for generations to come.” 

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, based in Phoenix and Indianapolis, recently donated more than $3 million dollars to support the Conservancy’s Verde River projects, including funding to secure the Park Central Farm voluntary land agreement. 

“We’re thrilled to be part of this effort, which is using inventive solutions to protect and restore the river and driving important conversations around water conservation,” remarks Carol Peden Schilling, chair of the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. “We want to help ensure there’s enough water in the Verde for those who depend on it for drinking water, to support local economies, and to protect streamside forest and wildlife habitat.” 

Hauser and Hauser Farms is the largest local farming operation in the Verde Valley. This conservation agreement ensures the land on which they farm will not be developed avoiding adverse effects for the river and Arizona’s food security. 

“I’m a fourth-generation farmer,” says Kevin Hauser. “Our family provides fresh produce for people while supporting our local economy. We’ve always been conservation-minded and forward-thinking. This is a great example of collaboration between agriculture, agencies, TNC and philanthropy to keep more water in the river.” 

Park Central Farm is adjacent to Rockin’ River Ranch State Park. Rockin’ River Ranch was originally purchased by The Conservancy and transferred to the Arizona State Parks to become Arizona’s newest park which will feature a mile of riverfront for fishing, kayaking, and wildlife watching. There will be trails for hiking and horseback riding as well as cabins and campgrounds. 

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service—also known as NRCS—supports this collaborative effort through its programs targeting river flows and agriculture. 

“We have proven we can protect agricultural land and river flows through the dedicated partnerships between the public and private sector, said NRCS State Conservationist for Arizona Keisha Tatem. “Not only does this secure water for the future, it also secures the farming operation, its value and its legacy.” 

TNC, Hauser and Hauser Farms, NRCS and AGFD, have been working on the Park Central project since 2016. Funding for the Park Central voluntary land agreement comes from The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, NRCS and AGFD.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.