Conservation group Friends of the Verde River began with just a few volunteers passionate about river conservation. Ten years later, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has grown in numbers, merged with other environmental groups and has become a major leader in protecting the Verde River.Friends Board President Chip Norton, who joined the group in 2009, said he feels that river conservation should be a bipartisan effort, which is key in promoting community stewardship.
“I have found that some of the most ardent conservationists are exceptionally conservative politically,” he said. “They don’t want people telling them what to do but they are willing to have people work with them as partners.”
For Norton, he’s always been strategic in how he approaches people and feels that Friends’ level of pragmatism in reaching out to partners is a huge reason why the organization has come so far.
“We’ve had good success,” he said. “It’s a conservative demographic [in Arizona]; it’s all about how you approach folks. You don’t tell them what to do, you tell them how to get things done together.”
In the beginning, Friends partnered with Arizona state parks to support the Verde River Greenway state natural area which covers six miles of river in Cottonwood.
Despite having very little funding, the group was a “boots on the ground, get things done kind of organization,” Norton said.
Today, Friends has moved to a new office in Cottonwood and has developed an online presence incorporating content from multiple sources from partnerships over the years.
Infographic by Jan Marc Quisumbing/Larson Newspapers
Last year, Friends merged with two other local conservation organizations: The Verde River Basin Partnership and the Verde River Valley Nature Organization, continuing their programmatic work. Formerly Friends of Verde River Greenway, Friends dropped “Greenway” so their name would be more representative of the entire Verde River Watershed.
Friends focuses on three major objectives: Restoring habitats, sustaining flows and promoting community stewardship. These goals are also present in their mission statement.
“Everything we do programmatically fits into those areas,” Norton said. “We do a couple million dollars of work a year.”
The group is also involved in geotourism efforts across the Verde Valley and has provided funding to the Sedona Verde Valley Tourism Council to promote green tourism.
When asked what he was most proud of, Norton said it is the partnerships Friends has been able to cultivate over the years.
“It’s not just something Friends is doing, it’s the thing we are doing with partners,” he said. “I really feel the only way we will have a healthy flowing river 50 years from now is to do it as a big team. When you have so many elected and business officials, that really bodes well for the future.”
Hunt Mercier/Larson Newspapers
For Camp Verde Mayor Charlie German, the feeling is mutual.
“I love the partnership we have had,” German said. “They provide such a great service for everyone, I wish they had more coverage. I congratulate them on their 10-year anniversary and I’m looking forward to 10 more years.”
Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski has similar sentiments.
“They’re comprised of highly qualified, passionate people,” he said. I’m pleased to know them and am excited to continue to work with them.”
Norton said a lot of the success with these partnerships is being a good listener. He wants to be clear that collaboration for him is not “doing everything I say.”
“You share responsibilities and funding for other projects,” he said. “That’s a way to get things done.”
Friends will be having an open house at their new office Thursday, Jan. 25 at noon at 115 S. Main St. Suite A in Cottonwood. The open house will begin with a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce.
Kelcie Grega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.