I recently had the privilege to celebrate the completion of one of the more complex and large-scale projects we have accomplished to date as part of the Northern Arizona Forest Fund. On July 27th, Spencer Plumb, NFF’s Arizona Associate and I hosted a ribbon cutting and symbolic road opening on Schnebly Hill Road, a popular jeep trail on the Red Rock Ranger District on the Coconino National Forest, just outside of Sedona, Arizona. 

For the last several decades, the rough dirt road has been eroding away, plagued by failing drainage structures and causing significant amounts of soil and debris to wash away during each rain and monsoon storm. This added sediment increases turbidity into nearby Oak Creek, an Outstanding Arizona Water, which leads to increased contamination of the harmful bacteria e. coli, while also depositing soil and debris in our reservoirs. This impacts both quality and ultimately quantity of water available for watershed communities and downstream cities.

The Schnebly Hill Road Erosion Control and Drainage Improvement Project represents the hallmark of what the Northern Arizona Forest Fund program was established to do. First, to restore watersheds and protect water supplies while also improving water quality. Second to engage community leaders and corporate partners who understand that coming together to restore watersheds is the NEW best way of doing business. And who understand that we all have something to gain as partners but so much to lose if we do nothing. 

And third, this project provides an opportunity for visitors who take a jeep tour or hike up Schnebly Hill Road the chance to learn first-hand the value of our National Forests as well as the natural resources that define this area and the importance of protecting the landscape.

Work happening at Schnebly Hill Road.

We were honored to have many partners join us on this celebratory day:

  • Salt River Project, the ‘anchor’ partner for the entire NAFF program; 
  • Pink Jeep Tours, an important local partner and permit holder for jeep tours on the Red Rock Ranger District; 
  • the City of Phoenix who benefits from sustainable and clean water supplies; and 
  • Century Link, who manages valuable infrastructure along the roadway that benefits from the added protection of improved drainage. 

We also welcomed our contractor Stream Dynamics, Inc. who took on the challenges this project threw at us. They also both designed and implemented the drainage realignments on more than five miles of jeep road – all with an eye towards the natural elements of the landscape, with the goal of long term sustainability. Looking ahead, Oak Creek Watershed Council will be monitoring the work over time and sharing short- and long-term watershed and water quality benefits of the work.

Many had wonderful comments to share, but to really drive the point home about the value of this work and the importance of partnerships, U.S. Congressman Tom O’Halleran provided remarks shared by Chip Davis, Congressman O’Halleran’s Deputy Regional Director:

The work of the National Forest Foundation and the Northern Arizona Forest Fund is critical to the conservation and restoration of our public lands across Arizona. This partnership has allowed projects like the Schnebly Hill drainage improvement to move forward to completion, improving water quality in Oak Creek and the Verde River. This project has benefits to the outdoor community and infrastructure, by enhancing access to recreational gems and important infrastructure.

Your commitment to preserving and protecting our public lands is improving lives and ensuring future generations of trailblazers, sportsmen, and tourists have access to our beautiful state’s unique landscapes. For that, I commend you and I thank you.

The value of partnership like this cannot be understated.

When budget limitations and bureaucracy prevent important conservation and restoration work from being accomplished, it is the community, foundations, and organizations that band together to ensure it is finished. The completion of this project proves that public-private partnerships work, and they work best when they engage local businesses, stakeholders, and community members.

I look forward to seeing the continued preservation work of both the National Forest Foundation and the Northern Arizona Forest Fund throughout Arizona to improve forest health and enhance water quality. And again, I want to thank you for all your hard work on this project and your commitment to the region.

For all of this, we thank our A-Team of partners and collaborators. There were a lot of folks involved but everyone stepped up to the plate to make this happen. I am truly grateful to be a part of this program.

National Forest Foundation