Friends of the Verde River appoints first executive director

Organization’s open house set for Jan. 25

Nancy Steele, front in photo, the new executive director of the Friends of the Verde River, poses in front of the offices on Main Street in Cottonwood with some of her staff. (VVN/Vyto Starinskas)

Nancy Steele, front in photo, the new executive director of the Friends of the Verde River, poses in front of the offices on Main Street in Cottonwood with some of her staff. (VVN/Vyto Starinskas)

The Verde River is the historic and vital pulse that created the Verde Valley.

And the organization dedicated to preserving its flow for future generations is ramping up with a new name, new executive director, new offices, new logo and new staff members.

It’s First Executive Director

Nancy Steele’s last job was to protect the main watersheds of the Los Angeles and St. Gabriel rivers. As the newly appointed and first Executive Director of the Friends of the Verde River, Steele now has the responsibility of the last free-flowing river in Arizona.

The Verde River is a desert river which flows from the headwaters in Paulden for 200 miles to two dams in Phoenix, making its way through the Verde Valley on the way.

The river has dried up in some sections, then came back up, Steele explained. “That was a real wake-up call. We got to stop this from happening or soon there won’t be a river.”

Steele said she was born and grew up in Phoenix and took many trips to Sedona with her family. She also graduated from ASU with a masters in biology and a doctorate in environmental sciences and engineering from UCLA.

The Group’s Mission

To celebrate 10 years as the leader in Verde River conversation work, the Friends of the Verde River will have an open house at their new offices in Cottonwood on Thursday, Jan. 25.

The organization has three goals in protecting the Verde River, Steele explain. These are to restore the habitat, maintain the flow of the river and stewardship in the community – which is education and events. Just last Monday, the group held a Verde River clean-up for MLK Day, she said.

Besides the 11-member staff, the group relies and on a data-base of more than 200 volunteers, Steele said. They also work with three Conservation Corps crews and a veteran’s crew, which go out and clean out invasive species along the Verde River. The FVR staff supervises the crews.

The invasive species take the place of native plants and are an annoyance. The crews take out the plants and replant native species where needed.

Maintaining the river flow, and buying, selling, and exchanging water rights between the FVR and landowners is very complicated, she pointed out.

The Friends of the Verde River is mainly funded from government and foundation grants, community support and contracts for habitat restoration.

Habitat restoration has two aspects: One is removing the invasive species and the other is replacing the invasive species with natives, Steele said.

In most cases property owners don’t have pay for the removal of invasive species because of grants, she continued, but property owners do have to enter into an agreement to allow the crews to come onto the land.

“I love the Verde River”

The group also reaches out into the community to promote a love for the river, Steele added.

“We encourage people to love the river, but not love it to death,” explained the new director. “We want to encourage people to get out and volunteer. You really can’t love something until you know it.”

The Verde River contributes $120 million to the local economy, Steele said. “So we have a vested interest in keeping it flowing.”

Friends of the Verde River’s open house is Thursday, Jan. 25 from noon to 7 p.m. The public is invited to visit the new office at 115 S. Main Street, #A, in Cottonwood. The open house will kick off with a ribbon cutting ceremony provided by the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce at noon. Visitors can stop in throughout the day to meet the new staff and learn about volunteer opportunities and the Friends’ programs. An evening reception from 5:30 to 7 p.m. will cap off the event with presentations by board members and program managers.

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