On September 21, more than 650 business leaders, political officials, scholars, and community members filed into the 50th Anniversary Gala hosted by Arizona Forward to see who would take home the coveted Environmental Excellence Awards. Arizona Forward is an advocate for a balance between economic development and environmental quality and convenes business, community and civic leaders in thoughtful public dialogue on critical sustainability issues.
The Environmental Excellence Program is Arizona’s largest, most prominent environmental awards competition and focuses on recognizing exemplary sustainability projects throughout the state of Arizona.
This year, nearly one-hundred project nominations were submitted under the following categories: buildings and structures; site development and landscape; healthy communities; technology innovation; art in public places; environmental education and communication; sustainability champion, waste reduction; and the Governor’s Award for Arizona’s future. The panel of judges selected to identify the award recipients consisted of individuals who possessed expertise in one or more of the awards and its categories.
Having recently completed two large-scale projects that will play an integral role in how park visitors and the community connect with nature, the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department eagerly completed nominations for the Healthy Communities and Art in Public Places categories.
“Last fall, our team completed Phase One of the Maricopa Trail. Through a wide array of partnerships with government agencies, we were able to reduce construction costs and accelerate completion of the 350-mile trail system. This was done by utilizing existing trail segments, right-of-ways, canals, parks, utility corridors, and flood control projects to create a trail system that links the county’s regional parks with our local communities. The Maricopa Trail is used by walkers, hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians,” said R.J. Cardin, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department Director.
“The Maricopa Trail is a testament to vision, collaboration, and hard work,” said Bill Gates, District 3, Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. “This project connects some of the best open space Maricopa County has to offer in a truly remarkable way that will benefit residents and visitors for generations.”
“In addition to the Maricopa Trail project, we’ve recently given our playground systems a makeover. And, since we were starting fresh, we decided to forego traditional playground structures and introduced nature-themed pieces such as Gila monster and rattlesnake slides, tarantula and coyote climbers, cactus swings and various other Sonoran desert themed pieces. The pieces are quite stunning and can easily be considered statement pieces that showcase the beauty found in the Sonoran desert, which is why we thought it was a good fit for the Art in Public Places category,” added Cardin.
While the department was not selected as the recipient for the Art in Public Places category, staff members were ecstatic to learn that the Maricopa Trail had been selected as the recipient of the 2019 Award of Distinction for the Healthy Communities category.
“It was quite an honor for our county and department to receive this award,” said Cardin. “The project may have taken more than ten years to complete, but it will be around for future generations to enjoy thanks to the Maricopa Board of Supervisors who had the foresight to plan for the extensive trail system. We were also very excited to share the evening with members of the Maricopa Trail and Park Foundation who have been an ardent supporter of the projects throughout the years.”
While Phase One of the trail has been completed, the department is in the process of planning Phase Two. This phase will link the Maricopa Trail to Buckeye Hills Regional Park and the Vulture Mountains Recreation Area. In addition, Phase Two will seek to create more connectivity with neighborhoods and community hubs. To learn more about the Maricopa Trail, or Maricopa County’s regional park system, visit www.maricopacountyparks.net.