Drop by Heritage River Park on a quiet weekday morning, and you’re likely to meet Nate Jansky. Burly, calloused, and disarmingly friendly, Nate casts a watchful eye over everything that happens on these grounds. His tattooed arms have spent many hours tilling this soil. Ask him his vision for these acres, and he’ll describe a landscape replete with wheat fields, orchards, community gardens. Looking around, it’s clear this is the direction the park is going, but Nate’s aspirations are many years away. The park has space for five different fields; only one is currently active. Two orchards are bearing fruit, but there is room for many more trees. A community garden already thrives, but the waiting list for an open plot is dauntingly long. Where others see fallow fields and wide open space, though, Nate sees opportunity. He sees the park’s youth as perhaps its greatest asset. He sees one citrus grove as a beacon for many more. And he’s excited.
A little over a year ago, Heritage Park opened to the public. A boulevard lined with walnut trees bisects the space. To the left sprouts a cotton field, tinged with the white puffs that have played so vital a role in Marana’s history. To the right, gardens managed by both community members and the Town itself invite walkers to enjoy a contemplative stroll. An enclosure just off the parking lot pays homage to Marana’s history. On two sides, an irrigation ditch cuts a furrow that meanders near picnic tables, past a silo, and under a rustic footbridge. At one end, its water drains into a catchment that pumps it back to where it began. A small tower lifts the water high above the ground and pours it over a tank, home to two indigenous desert tortoises. Gradually, as the tank overflows, the water slips back into the irrigation canal, where it begins its cycle once again.
History buffs and art lovers will want to spend a few extra minutes in this part of the park. Amid the verdant vegetation, an iron sculpture pays tribute to the region’s past. A timeline chronicles the long arc of history that has happened here, from the Hohokam people living in the Tortolitas, to the railroad workers who helped build one of the nation’s first transnational arteries, to the farmers whose descendants still sow their fields every spring and harvest them every fall.
The clearest testament to Marana’s history, though, is not found in this section of the park. Across the walnut-flanked path, past a vintage barn, stands a fruit arbor, and at its center soars an impressive fig tree. Last year, Nate trimmed it to a shadow of its former self, its tendrils only reaching up to his barrel chest. Standing beneath its spreading limbs today, though, it towers over 25 feet into the air. The sculpture across the park outlines plenty of times when Marana’s residents have experienced similar pruning, but whether it takes a year or a decade, they’ve always come back taller and stronger than before.