Moving forward in our communities not backwards – tourism and new businesses versus moving out

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Photo Sep 30, 8 21 25 AM.jpg

By Rosalind Padilla

Special to Copper Area News

Have you ever walked the Arizona Trail, picnicked in the washes, or taken any of the back roads surrounding us? Maybe you’ve thought about it or you don’t know what exists near by. Do you enjoy bird watching, tubing down the Gila River (when it has water), camping or picnicking along the Gila?

There are a lot of people who enjoy those activities. Every destination point in Kearny, Hayden and Winkelman offers unique challenges for those who have imagination, determination and ingenuity to put their businesses on the map.

Using the Arizona Trail as an example, it runs from the Utah border to Mexico. If you are hiking or biking from Utah to Mexico and get to Superior you can begin just west of Picket Post, hiking along a beautiful trail. When you get to Kelvin you might want to continue the trail to Oracle or get back to Superior. At the Kelvin area shuttle services are needed. Jeep tours can even be provided. Those involved want food and lodging, curio shops, and will be shopping locally for supplies for the next part of the journey. As publicity grows so grows the economy.

A tour guide group from Colorado already brings groups from all over the world to hike the Arizona Trail. Why not someone locally offering the same service, including equestrian trail rides. The unique beauty of the desert mountains, the sunsets, and the peace and quiet keeps the tourists here. It has been determined that these tourists spend approximately 14 days at a destination and spend $1,000 to $1,500 per visit.

At a recent forum sponsored by the Copper Corridor Economic Development Coalition guests from as far away as Sierra Vista, to the south, and Cottonwood, to the northwest, discussed the opportunities available for those that want to keep our rural communities alive. Buildings are falling apart in Hayden and Winkelman, some could be considered historical. There is so much potential for those willing to take a risk. Bisbee, Tombstone, Jerome and Cottonwood have turned their communities around by those willing to take a challenge. It did not happen over night but within five years of their re-starts they are what are called “Destination” towns and their businesses are thriving.

We have to do something. It was a shock to all of the communities in the Copper Corridor from Oracle, San Manuel, Mammoth, Hayden, Winkelman and Kearny to learn of the closure of Bank of the West. That closure affects our local businesses in many ways. We all saw what happened to Hayden and Winkelman when they closed the bank in Hayden. It is simple to put on paper that there are branches in Superior and Globe that can be used but without public transit not everyone can get there. Of course there are credit unions in Kearny and San Manuel that will take our business and are making plans to do so.

Our communities are being treated as if we do not exist. We are rural but not remote. Necessary services provided by DES are being taken away. The Pinal County nurses have to work out of Florence. The families who need these services find it hard to travel so many of them just go without the necessary care offered. Chastain use to say, “it is as far from Casa Grande to Kearny as it is from Kearny to Casa Grande,” when we had to make trips to the other end of the county for meetings. One Sheriff deputy, during our recent fire, described Kearny to Channel 10 News saying that Kearny had a population of 300 and was on the San Pedro. That is how we are perceived on the other side of the mountain.

Our local businesses are struggling to stay alive and having much needed service taken away doesn’t help our local economy. The Mine Van Pools are hurting our communities except for the snacks purchased before leaving town.

We enjoy our Winter Residents who come here for the weather, to play golf, and quiet from the big city’s hustle and bustle. If all of our amenities and services are taken away from us they will part their ways from our communities.

Our schools offer a good education, sporting events, concerts, and other activities in the best way possible but declining enrollment has limited them. They now have to travel long distances in order to play schools in their division (based on enrollment). Our students are just as good even better than division two and three schools.

We cannot just sit back and say, “Oh no, now what do we do.” People in San Manuel, Mammoth, Duddleyville, Hayden, Winkelman, Kearny need to take action. Many of us are getting up there in years so it is time for the young families to take action. Use your imagination, take a leap of faith and follow that dream you once had but implement it here in our area.

The town of Cottonwood had a downtown area with old buildings boarded up, some falling down. Our keynote speaker at the Tourism Forum was Casey Rooney who saw possibilities, centering in on the attractions around that area. They made Cottonwood the destination point for the Verde Valley with 17 new restaurants now on Main Street. The original local businesses are doing better than ever.

Bullion Plaza in Miami, originally a school for Mexican and Native American children, is on the historical register. With a bit of imagination and a grant it is now a museum featuring local legends and history. Downtown Globe, especially in front of the historical courthouse, has brought life back to the area.

Don’t let Colorado tour groups make money off our area, someone locally could and should do it.

Quoting Rooney, “Take the assets you have in your community and build upon them. Who is ready to take the challenge?”

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