PLAYA LINDA:

City cel­e­brates open­ing of new beach, an­other lo­cal op­tion for river recre­ation

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARA KNAUB @YSMARAKNAUB

Soon af­ter its of­fi­cial open­ing on Wednes­day, fam­i­lies were en­joy­ing Yuma’s new­est river­front beach and cool­ing off in the wa­ter. When the dig­ni­taries fin­ished their speeches and cut the cer­e­mo­nial rib­bon, kids and adults jumped into the river, one gentle­man started fish­ing and oth­ers sat on a wall, watch­ing the scenes un­fold.

A few oth­ers toured new trails lead­ing to an ed­u­ca­tional grove un­der a tree canopy. It was de­signed for out­door classes and has rock seat­ing and a rus­tic, nat­u­ral play­ground, in­clud­ing wood te­pees.

The com­mu­nity cel­e­brated the grand open­ing of the city’s third beach, named Playa Linda, which means “beau­ti­ful beach,” Wednes­day morn­ing. It is lo­cated in the West Wet­lands Park,

just west of the APS So­lar Gar­den and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble via an im­proved park­ing lot off of Wa­ter Street.

Playa Linda has an ADA-ac­ces­si­ble ramp, seat­ing wall, open grass area, sand beach, shade trees and new trails con­nect­ing to the park.

“What’s so sig­nif­i­cant about this is that this used to be the city dump,” City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Greg Wilkinson said. “Trans­form­ing this beach area with grass and all this kind of stuff is re­ally sig­nif­i­cant for the com­mu­nity. This is our third beach. Gate­way Park is packed, Cen­ten­nial Beach is packed, and now we’ve opened a third area. And you can see, kids are out us­ing it al­ready.”

For Deputy Mayor Gary Knight, it’s a dream come true to see the for­mer wilder­ness and dump trans­formed into a beau­ti­ful park.

“As a na­tive Yu­man, I’ve waited all my life for this beach to hap­pen, and when I say beach I don’t mean just right here, but all the way to Gate­way Park,” Knight said. “It’s won­der­ful that we’re fi­nally tak­ing ad­van­tage of one of our great­est as­sets, and that’s the Colorado River ...

“It will be a tourist at­trac­tion, it will help us bring peo­ple and fam­i­lies to Yuma, and they’ll have a place to bring their kids for recre­ation, and that will be quite us­able in the sum­mer­time when it’s re­ally hot in Yuma. We’ve got wa­ter,” Knight added.

“We’re do­ing it for the next gen­er­a­tion,” said Lowell Perry Jr., ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Yuma Cross­ing Na­tional Her­itage Area.

He told the Yuma Sun: “From my van­tage point here, this is all about the kids. Not only the West Wet­lands and Gate­way Park and the East Wet­lands, but the Ter­ri­to­rial Prison and the Colorado River State His­toric Park, all those things you’re go­ing to see new en­hance­ments and things that hope­fully your kids are go­ing to find not only ed­u­ca­tional but fun. We have to make it fun; learn­ing doesn’t have to be bor­ing.”

Ari­zona State Parks Di­rec­tor Sue Black was on hand for the cel­e­bra­tion. She noted that the state agency con­trib­uted $150,000 to the pro­ject and con­grat­u­lated the lead­er­ship in Yuma for “mak­ing the right decisions for the com­mu­nity.” She said, “They say our pub­lic spaces de­fine us as a com­mu­nity, and you guys are cre­at­ing some re­ally cool pub­lic spaces.”

She later ex­plained why parks are so es­sen­tial for a com­mu­nity. “It’s where we gather. And it’s not so much about the beach; it’s what go­ing to hap­pen on the beach. It’s not about the trail but what’s go­ing to hap­pen on the trail.”

Wilkinson thanked the city’s park main­te­nance crews. “When we re­treat into the air con­di­tion­ing, they’re out here bust­ing their youknow-whats to make it go. … Those guys work their tails off.”

He then high­lighted the pub­lic and pri­vate col­lab­o­ra­tion it took to make the new beach and trails hap­pen. “None of this would be pos­si­ble with­out the col­lab­o­ra­tion,” he said. “We be­lieve in col­lab­o­ra­tion, whether it’s tribal, state, fed­eral — we’ve had a lot of fed­eral help. The Wal­ton Foun­da­tion helped us a lit­tle bit.”

In par­tic­u­lar, Wilkinson ex­pressed ap­pre­ci­a­tion to “a com­mu­nity that turns out and sup­port us. … I just want to thank you ev­ery­body in the com­mu­nity for pitch­ing in and help­ing us make this a re­al­ity and bring it for our ci­ti­zens. And I be­lieve ev­ery week­end from here on we’ll see this beach packed.”

For Deb­bie Wendt, di­rec­tor of the city’s Parks and Recre­ation De­part­ment, the new beach is some­thing to be proud of. “We can all take pride. Ev­ery­one out here had a say in that.”

Wendt thanked Mayor Doug Ni­cholls and the City Coun­cil, Ari­zona State Parks and Trails, Ari­zona Game and Fish, Yuma Cross­ing Na­tional Her­itage Area, and the city’s Parks and Recre­ation De­part­ment as well as those who work be­hind the scenes and the hun­dreds of vol­un­teers who cleared the park, laid the trails and planted the trees.

“We’ve given the river back to the com­mu­nity,” Wendt said.

The new beach will “of­fer so many more recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties. To have peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s like to be along the Colorado River, which has re­ally been the heart-blood of what Yuma is and go­ing way, way back, why Yuma even be­came Yuma on the river.”

Wendt is also ex­cited about the new trails. “I al­ways like to en­cour­age folks to walk along the West Wet­lands trails along the river on the lower bench be­cause it takes you to a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment from what Yuma ac­tu­ally is. To me you’re walk­ing through a for­est, go­ing through a beau­ti­ful canopy of trees. We’re out here right now, it’s about 106, but you go into the canopy of trees along the Colorado River on the trails, it’s 10, 15 de­grees cooler.”

More im­prove­ments are still planned for the park along the river. “We still have a long ways to go,” Wendt noted.

The Gowan Com­pany do­nated $62,000 for fur­ther ex­pan­sion of the park to the west. The Gowan Grove will have new trails and 700 newly planted trees. “They’re go­ing to bring 500 vol­un­teers down here in Novem­ber to help us do that,” Wendt said.

“This is only the be­gin­ning. We want to con­tinue to build on these things. And we want to in­vite your par­tic­i­pa­tion,” Perry said.

He’s in­ter­ested in the ideas young peo­ple might have. “We want to hear from kids. What do they want? Too of­ten as adults we think we’ve got all the an­swers and we don’t ask the young peo­ple, what would you find ex­cit­ing? What would you like to come back to again and again and feel like you’re learn­ing some­thing ev­ery time out? So that’s my mes­sage. Let’s hear it from kids.”

To sub­mit ideas on fu­ture im­prove­ments to the river­front, email to lowell.perry@yu­maaz.gov.

DEB­BIE WENDT (CEN­TER), YUMA PARKS AND RECRE­ATION DE­PART­MENT DI­REC­TOR, ad­dresses those gath­ered Wednes­day morn­ing for the grand open­ing of the new Playa Linda, which means “beau­ti­ful beach,” along the Colorado River in the West Wet­lands Park.

Buy these pho­tos at Yu­maSun.com PHO­TOS BY RANDY HOEFT/YUMA SUN

YUMA CITY COUN­CIL DEPUTY MAYOR GARY KNIGHT (third from left in fore­ground) points to where Sue Black, Ari­zona State Parks Board ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor (sixth from left), and Lowell Perry (next to Black), Yuma Cross­ing Na­tional Her­itage Area ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, should cut the cer­e­mo­nial rib­bon Wednes­day morn­ing at the grand open­ing of the new Playa Linda along the Colorado River in the West Wet­lands Park. Stand­ing be­tween Knight and Black is city coun­cil mem­ber Les­lie McClen­don.

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