EL RIO PRESERVE PROJECT
PRESERVATION - EDUCATION - RECREATION
El Rio Preserve is a 104- acre site that has served a variety of uses for many years. In the 18th century, Juan Bautista de Anza and his followers camped on this site during their journey from Southern Arizona to San Francisco. More recently, the Arizona Department of Transportation used this location as a gravel borrow pit for large infrastructure projects. Over the past several decades, disc golfers have constructed a series of targets throughout the site, and periodically, the flood waters from surrounding neighborhoods have created a seasonal lake, attracting a variety of migratory birds.
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Tucked into a pocket of the upper Tucson Mountains, El Rio Preserve functions as a collecting basin for both run-off from the mountain slopes and overflow from the Santa Cruz River. This confluence of geologic features affords spectacular views of granite and gneiss intermixed with the younger volcanic rocks that produce the vibrantly red hues that distinguish these peaks. To the east is a wide open flood plain of the lower Santa Cruz River, which occasionally becomes a turbulent waterway after heavy rains.
LOCATION OF THE PRESERVE
Physical Address: 10190 N. Coachline Blvd; Marana, AZ 85743
ASSETS OF EL RIO PRESERVE
El Rio Preserve offers the Marana community a number of benefits which must be considered in any site plan.
Rich riparian habitat for nesting and migratory birds. More than 200 species of birds have been observed here.
Stormwater retention basin that prevents flooding of nearby neighborhoods.
Natural land features, like mounds and shade trees, that support a variety of land uses and nature viewing.
Site is identified as a regionally important wildlife linkage
Any added features must be compatible with the characteristics of natural habitat and wildlife linkage
The Town is developing alternatives for 25-year storm bank protection or a reinforced berm, which will:
Reduce mosquito problems by reducing flood frequencies and standing, stagnant water
Reduce the amount of trash and invasive weed seeds that flow in during storm events
Reduce concerns of overbank flooding
Create an urban oasis for wildlife and residents
Preserve and enhance an important riparian area
Allow the Town to create an outdoor classroom space for local schools.
Improve the Town’s ability to perform routine maintenance at the site
El Rio Project Updates
Updated: September 2018
The Town of Marana has complete engineering and landscaping plans for El Rio Preserve. A request for bids for landscaping along the SW corner of El Rio, near the parking lot, will be advertised in the next 2-3 months (called Phase 1A). This upland area can be revegetated prior to bank protection because it’s unlikely to flood. The bid request will include the turnout from Cortaro-Marana Irrigation District to provide water for ponds in the future.
The riparian restoration project has to be phased because it will cost approximately $2M to complete the entire master plan. We just submitted a grant proposal to help fund removal of invasive species and planting natives, with water harvesting basins and a drip irrigation system, (called Phase 1A – see map below) at the southwest corner of the property, near the parking lot.
Much of the work will have to wait until Pima County Flood Control District completes bank protection that will exclude floods of up to 25-year events. Bank protection is needed to avoid heavy flooding, sedimentation, invasive plants, and mosquitos. The bank protection project is estimated to cost about $1.5M. The design will be initiated this fall and will take approximately one year. Then construction will take another 12-18 months. These things take time – to fund, to obtain all of the needed permits, and to construct!
Tucson Audubon Society and the Town of Marana teamed up with volunteers to plant a pollinator garden at the parking lot on Coachline Blvd., using funding from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grant. The garden has already been attracting butterflies!
Updated: May 2018
The Town of Marana has 100% construction plans for the southwestern portion of the property and a master plan for the entire site, thanks to the Water Infrastructure Financing Authority grant.
In January 2018, the Town cleaned up the huge pile of trash that washed in during flooding in 2017. They filled four roll-off trash bins.
Pima County has agreed to allow a new disc golf course on their land, adjacent to the southeastern corner of El Rio Preserve property, and design is currently being finalized.
Marana Parks & Recreation Department will be developing an overall El Rio Recreation Master Plan. This plan will encompass the entire El Rio Recreation Area, including the 104 ac. El Rio Preserve, 54 ac. - 18 basket Disc Golf Course, Shared User Path 4 mile section on the Santa Cruz, El Rio Pocket Park, and additional parking area on MUSD site.
The Town is working with the Tucson Audubon Society to create a pollinator garden by the Loop Trail parking lot on Coachline Blvd. Funding is provided by a grant from Partners for Fish and Wildlife. An interpretive sign will be placed near the pollinator garden, explaining the importance of pollinators and the reasons for their decline.
Marana continues to monitor and treat for mosquitos as needed.
Pima County and the Town are working on an intergovernmental agreement to build bank protection along the Santa Cruz River. Design by Pima County Regional Flood Control District will begin later this summer, and construction will begin in early fall of next year (2019). This will help reduce issues with mosquitos, trash, and invasive weed seeds that germinate at El Rio once floodwaters recede.