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Spot offers spectacular panoramic views of area and restoration area
YUMA, ARIZONA – The success of the East Wetlands restoration project was celebrated in a special ceremony dedicating a new riverside overlook to Yuma's own Herb Guenther, formerly a state senator representing the area and recently retired as director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
The new overlook, located along a riverside trail that connects Gateway Park to the East Wetlands, was dedicated March 16. To reach the site, walk under the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge and follow the mulched trail upriver about half a mile - an easy five-minute stroll through cottonwoods, willows and mesquite trees.
"Herb Guenther has been a tireless advocate for this project to reconnect the Yuma community to the Colorado River, both as a senator and as director," said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which has spearheaded the wetlands restoration. "To dedicate our new overlook in his name is a fitting tribute to the hard work he invested over many years to make this possible."
Over the last six years, more than 400 acres of what was a trash-strewn jungle of non-native vegetation have been transformed into a beautiful wetlands area full of native plants, trees, bird and animals. Rustic nature trails allow residents and visitors to explore the area during daylight hours.
The 20-foot Guenther Overlook, located just west of where the south channel rejoins the river, offers striking views of the Colorado River and the iconic profiles of the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge and the St. Thomas Indian Mission, along with the whole sweep of the restored East Wetlands area. In a 360-degree panorama, visitors also can see Picacho Peak, Castle Dome Peak, the Gila Mountains and the manmade "landmark" of the murals that adorn the city's water tanks at 16th Street.
"Since it's about a mile round trip walk from Gateway Park to the Guenther Overlook and back, we think this will really become a magnet for visitors and residents alike," Flynn added. "With its elevation above the river, it rewards those who take the stroll with wonderful views in every direction – plus a look at the whole restoration area."
That effort has been no small undertaking: Since the wetlands restoration project began in 2002, workers have planted more than 75,000 trees, plant and shrubs and moved more than 300,000 cubic yards of dirt to create two miles of side channel and several backwater lakes that now dot the once water-starved wasteland. Water used to backwash filters at the city's water plant now helps to flush salt from poor quality soils.
As the tangle of invasive vegetation has been replaced with native plants and trees and water quality has improved, wildlife has voted with its wings: bird population doubled and bird diversity increased by 75 percent since the East Wetlands restoration began. In fact, rare and elusive Yuma clapper rails – an endangered species – are now mating and nesting in the East Wetlands. Ultimately, the renewed landscape is expected to yield exceptional habitat for more than 330 species of birds and wildlife.
Flynn noted that this ambitious undertaking has only been possible because the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area and the City of Yuma joined forces with private landowners and the Quechan Indian Tribe to create consensus and develop a plan. Local investment has been leveraged at a ratio of 15 to 1, with more than $10 million in grants from a variety of sources supporting the work.
Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area is an independent nonprofit corporation governed by a local board of directors. It was among the first national heritage areas in the West to be officially designated by the U.S. Congress. The Heritage Area's master plan projects earned the Governor's Arizona Preservation Award in 2009. For more information, call 928-373-5198 or visit www.yumaheritage.com.
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