Gila District volunteers provide valuable service

Story by June Lowery, public affairs specialist 

The Gila District has a wonderful cadre of volunteers that assist on public lands. Site hosts, stewards, and friends groups provide extra capacity at popular management areas.  

Two hikers with stand in a rocky desert landscape with cacti and mountains in the background
Aravaipa site hosts Walt and Kathy Horsfall

The Safford Field Office has site hosts Walt and Kathy Horsfall at the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness and Tom and Pauline Godfrey at the Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area. "Both areas have experienced increased visitation since COVID," said Assistant Field Manager Roberta Lopez. "Due to our limited staffing capacity, these site hosts are often our eyes and ears, providing education and information to visitors and helping us to keep areas clean and safe."  

The Horsfalls began as site hosts on the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area in 2007 providing visitor education/information on the area and performing numerous site improvements and cleanups with the assistance of Boy Scout troops and other volunteers.  In 2019, the Horsfalls were honored with the BLM National Volunteer Program’s Lifetime Achievement Award for their work in fostering visitors’ increased understanding and appreciation of the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area’s natural resources and value of public lands.  Since their move to the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, the Horsfalls have continued to provide visitor services and help the BLM ensure that visitors obtain the proper permit to enter the Wilderness, ensuring its resource values stay intact.   

Two people wearing baseball caps stand next to a camper and in front of a picnic table
Hot Well Dunes site hosts Tom and Pauline Godfrey

The Godfreys are on their fourth year at the Hot Well Dunes.  They are very helpful and respected by all visitors. The Godfreys stay very active throughout the 2000+ acres of Recreation Site, ensuring camping sites, restrooms, and hot tubs stay clean. 

Man in a tan shirt wearing sunglasses and a large hat with upturned brim
Arizona Site Stewards Coordinator David Salge, photo courtesy of David Salge

The Safford Field Office also has Site Stewards through the Arizona Site Stewards Program. The program is led by the State Historic Preservation Office and is supported through federal funding from the BLM, U.S. National Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Arizona Site Steward Program Foundation and through generous donations from local businesses and archaeological-based agencies. Site Stewards monitor sites on all public lands, whether it be BLM, Forest Service, State Trust, etc. Coordinating with the various land management agencies, the Site Steward Program maintains a State-wide database of the registered sites that are routinely monitored. There are 18 Site Stewards registered with the Safford Field Office that monitor sites in Apache and Navajo Counties. These volunteers are an indispensable resource for this office because they increase the number of sites that can be monitored, thus affording better protection for the archaeological record. “As a one-man show, without the Site Stewards, there are many sites up north that would go unmonitored due to the lack of time and the distance from our office,” said Safford Archeologist George Maloof. 

Tucson Field Office has site hosts Alan and Angele Nyiri at the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, Pat and Kate Jacobsen at the San Pedro House, and Dennis and Carol Bierman at the Fairbank Historic Site, located on the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. "Our site hosts are an extension of the BLM and provide support in preserving and maintaining our public lands for current and future generations," said Tucson Park Ranger Jody Barker.  "We owe them a great debt of gratitude." 

Man wearing a cap and vest with the BLM logo using a trash picker to remove a garbage bag full of trash from the ground
Las Cienegas National Conservation Area site host Alan Nyiri removes trash

The Nyiri’s have been instrumental in assisting the BLM prevent camping overstays and incursions into important resource areas by educating campers on the BLM’s dispersed camping policy and various established camping areas. They also aid in protecting important historical resources from catastrophic fire through regular mowing. The Jacobsens and Biermans have dealt with various maintenance issues, assisted lost hikers, and educated the public on the many recreational opportunities in the area.   

man in a red shirt and tan hat placing recycled Christmas trees in an eroded area
Arizona Native Plant Society volunteer Ed Nigl places Christmas trees at Ironwood Forest National Monument to stop erosion/downcuts in the habitat

In addition to site hosts, the Tucson Field Office has five friends/volunteer groups that assist on the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, and Ironwood Forest National Monument. These three landscapes were designated for their unique and important natural resources and are part of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands. The Empire Ranch Foundation, Cienega Watershed Partnership, Friends of the San Pedro River, Friends of Ironwood Forest, The Nature Conservancy, and Arizona Native Plant Society dedicate an extraordinary amount of volunteer hours as advocates for these important landscapes, ensuring the public enjoys the landscapes and understands the importance of conserving their important resource values for current and future generations. Over the years, these groups have received recognition for their many contributions to public lands. For example, in 2010, John Scheuring of the Arizona Native Plant Society and the Friends of Ironwood Forest were recognized with a BLM National Volunteer Award for their work in removing invasive buffelgrass from the Monument and restoring native plant populations. Also recognized for their hard work, the Cienega Watershed Partnership and Empire Ranch Foundation received the Department of the Interior’s 2013 Partners in Conservation Award for species conservation work and production of an oral history to encourage cultural preservation of the area. 

man wearing a cap on a riding lawnmower pulling a small wagon
San Pedro House volunteer performs work around the historic property

The Gila District appreciates all our volunteers and recognize the value they add. Between 2017-2022, volunteers on the Gila District have donated 218,625 hours, saving the BLM $6,547,819‬ in labor cost. Volunteers are critical in the management of BLM managed public lands.  

A youth holding a shovel and wearing rubber boots stands next to stream. Other people on opposite side of stream are also working with shovels.
Youth engaged in stewardship on the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, photo by Annamarie Schaecher
Blog Topic: