Written by Sam Baggenstos, Wild Arizona Conservation Associate.

Water is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. It connects, it divides, and it spreads life where it goes. This is particularly the case with the Colorado River which plays such a powerful role in the Southwest. From March 26th to March 31st, a handful of Wild Arizona folk worked, learned and played in and around the portion of the Colorado River that flows through Marble Canyon. Marble Canyon stretches from Lee’s Ferry to the confluence with the Little Colorado River.

The Colorado River, looking up stream from Navajo Bridge.

Volunteer and community engagement coordinator Nizhoni Baldwin and conservation associate Samuel Baggenstos kicked the project off by digging over thirty holes with a two person gas-powered auger. These holes were dug in order to plant native trees in places where previously planted trees had died. Over the last two years, Wild Arizona’s Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and the Wild Stew Field Crew, under the direction of Wild Arizona’s senior ecologist Larry Stevens, has been working hard to restore the native vegetation of Paria Beach, which for decades has been dominated by a dense stand of the invasive tree Tamarisk. This spring’s efforts represent the third round of planting since the project started.

Nizhoni and Sam take a break from digging holes with the auger

On Friday (3/29) a group of students from Page High School arrived to help with the project and learn about the area. These students were lead by Ben Dalton, science teacher at Page High School, and Joel Barnes, a Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies & Sustainability at Prescott College. Over the past several years, Joel and Ben have been bringing groups of students to help with the project by planting trees, gathering and scattering native seeds, and cutting tree poles for planting. On this particular day, the students, under the careful guidance of Larry Stevens, were planting pole cuttings of Gooding’s willow in the deep holes dug by Nizhoni and Sam. This method of planting draws its inspiration from the dry farming methods used by the Hopi Tribe.

The students from Page High School listen to Joel Barnes as he explains the history of the project at Paria Beach.

Saturday and Sunday, Wild Arizona staff members took part in the Guide Training Seminar at the Hatch River Expeditions Warehouse in Marble Canyon. This seminar takes place each year to provide Grand Canyon river guides with valuable information that they can apply to better serve their clients. Two people who work in some capacity for Wild Arizona presented on Sunday (3/31). Larry Stevens, who, in addition to being Wild Arizona’s senior ecologist, is also the director of the Springs Stewardship Institute, gave a talk on the unique plants and animals that live in and around the springs that exist within the Grand Canyon. Joel Barnes, the founder of Riparia LLC, presented on Wild Arizona’s restoration work at Paria Breach, focusing, in particular, on the ways that the project has connected young people to the rich cultural and natural history of Marble Canyon. 

Ben Dalton, teacher at Page High School, works with student to plant willow trees.

In addition to presenting, folks from Wild Arizona tabled at the event, providing information to river guides about a variety of campaigns and projects. In particular, Wild AZ staff members urged people to send letters to Governor Katie Hobbs asking her to shut down the Pinyon Plains Mine nearby the town of Tusayan at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There is mounting evidence that suggests that this uranium mine may contaminate water sources that local communities depend upon. To learn more and to send Governor Hobbs a letter urging her to shut down the mine, follow this link.

Nizhoni Baldwin and other indigenous tribe members at the guide training seminar.