The cries of excitement sounded over Dead Horse Ranch State Park as a broad-winged hawk -- the first sighted in Yavapai County -- glided over the registration tents and information booths at the annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival.
It couldn't have been choreographed any more perfectly, giving birders from all over the nation a sighting that they'll remember for years.
This year, the Festival drew nearly 400 birders to the Verde Valley to enjoy a series of field trips and excursions along one of Arizona's last perennially flowing river systems - a magnet for an incredible diversity of bird species.
These visitors stayed in local hotels, dined in local restaurants, and provided a tangible boost to the growing tourism economy. Birdwatching and other watchable wildlife experiences are among the fastest growing outdoor recreation activities, bringing considerable economic benefits to communities fortunate enough to feature and support these incredible opportunities.
Earth Economics, a nonprofit science-based economic research firm specializing in outdoor recreation benefits, recently reported that the Verde River watershed supports at least $300 million in outdoor recreation spending in the region, contributing to approximately 3,400 jobs in the valley.
Keeping a healthy, vibrant Verde River is an important part of continuing to support tourism and outdoor recreation activities, such as birding, fishing, and other outdoor pastimes.
The efforts of our communities to support sustainable recreation planning and watchable wildlife programs in the Verde Valley -- through park improvements, Important Bird Area (IBA) designations, and conservation of our vital water resources and riverside habitats -- all contribute to ensuring the Verde River continues to play an important role in local economies and our quality of life.