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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : people, places & past May 24, 2016

1/15/2013 2:31:00 PM
Dan Campbell: Three decades spent keeping the ark afloat
Dan Campbell first saw the Verde River in 1984 while assisting Governor Bruce Babbitt with the creation of the Verde River Greenway. Courtesy photos
Dan Campbell first saw the Verde River in 1984 while assisting Governor Bruce Babbitt with the creation of the Verde River Greenway. Courtesy photos
Campbell served his last eight years with The Nature Conservancy heading up their Verde Program.
Campbell served his last eight years with The Nature Conservancy heading up their Verde Program.

Steve Ayers
Staff Reporter

CAMP VERDE - Shortly after Dan Campbell took the job of state director for The Nature Conservancy, he was sitting in his subterranean Tucson office when one of his staff shouted down the hall that there was a guy on the phone claiming to be the governor.

"Then I guess I better take it," Campbell told the staffer.

The voice on the other end of the phone was in fact Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who began pumping Campbell with questions. Do you help facilitate the purchase of land? How do you operate? What's your schedule like?

Campbell explained what it was he and TNC did and offered the governor his assistance.

"Good," said Babbitt, "Could you meet me at the executive terminal at Sky Harbor on Friday? I have something to show you."

After wandering about Sky Harbor on the appointed Friday, trying to find the governor's plane, Campbell and Babbitt took off for Northern Arizona.

When they next touched down, Campbell was shuttled off for a tour of a place he'd never seen, where he was taken to a lush streamside forest and shown some properties that included significant chunks of the stream. The governor said he wanted to buy the land for the citizens of Arizona.

Campbell says he did his best to take it all in, but admits there was a lot to digest. And it was only after he returned to Sky Harbor and said good-bye to the governor that he realized -- he had no real idea where he had been.

"I heard the governor mention Cottonwood a couple of times, but to be honest I wasn't real sure. Mind you I had only been in Arizona about two months," he says.

The trip would mark the beginning of a fruitful relationship with Bruce Babbitt, the very beginnings of the Verde River Greenway and the start of Campbell's long-term love affair with the Verde River, a love that has spanned three decades.

The first 12 years in Arizona

Dan Campbell was farming, teaching and raising kids just outside the Gila Wilderness Area in New Mexico when a flood swept through in 1983, inundating his house, destroying his crops and wiping out his irrigation system. And amidst it all, his wife was about to give birth.

He decided he needed a paying job.

Having had positive dealings with The Nature Conservancy and a rancher's background dealing with state and federal agencies he decided to apply for an opening in Arizona as the state director.

In his words, "They liked me and I liked them." In 1984 he began what would become a 28-year career that would take him from Arizona, to Belize, to Washington, D.C., Jamaica and England -- and for the last eight years, to the Verde River.

At each stop he would leave an indelible mark in the name of preservation of open spaces and ecological conservation, nearly all of which are still an integral part of the landscape today.

During the 12 years he served as Arizona state director, Campbell helped kick off and purchased some of the property and easements that became the Verde River Greenway.

But he also helped facilitate the purchases of thousands of acres that became state parks, national wildlife refuges and properties now managed by The Nature Conservancy.

He quietly cut the deal that brought Kartchner Caverns into the Arizona State Park system, along with assisting in the purchase of Tonto Natural Bridge and Red Rock State Park

Among the TNC properties that bear his stamp are additions to the 55,000-acre Muleshoe Ranch, the 45,000-acre Aravaipa Preserve, the six-mile-long Hassayampa River Preserve outside Wickenburg, Ramsey Canyon outside Tucson and the Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia.

He also conveyed land gifted to TNC in Hartwell Canyon near Sedona and the Homestead at Hart Prairie, beneath the San Francisco Peaks.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was his work to establish of the Arizona Heritage Fund, which has raised over 400 million dollars to protect Arizona's wildlife and open space along with its natural, cultural and historic legacy.

The off-shore years

But after 12 years of endless travel, consensus building and fundraising, in which TNC in Arizona went from seven people to a diverse and specialized staff of 60, Campbell needed a break.

In 1996, he accepted a job helping set aside other natural treasures in Belize and Jamaica. For the record, at the time he took the job he says he did not know where Belize was, exactly.

But over the next eight years he helped purchase hundreds of thousands of acres of rain forest and get them permanently protected.

He created numerous public/private partnerships that would build national parks, marine reserves and wildlife preserves in the Caribbean and Central America.

He would be the first person to successfully exchange a debt owed to the United States for a foreign country's assurance to protect its own natural resources.

But once again the travel proved taxing.

Back to the Verde

In 2004 Campbell took over the TNC's Verde River project, an attempt to bring science and sound management practices to help preserve one of the last free-flowing desert rivers in the American Southwest.

Since then he has helped demonstrate its economic value and initiated studies of its native fish, beavers, otters, management policy, effluent recharge and filed a claim for instream flow rights.

He has also helped bring in modern irrigation infrastructure and practices that are helping leave more water in the river.

And, like everywhere else he has been he has purchased land, including the 160-acre Arizona Game and Fish Upper Verde Wildlife Area and an adjacent 160 acre conservation easement, along with TNC's 20-acre Verde Springs Preserve and the 20-acre Otter Water property downstream of Oak Creek.

He was also behind the purchase of the Packard Ranch property on Sycamore Creek that now belongs to the Forest Service, the 209-acre Rocking River Ranch that now belongs to Arizona State Parks and TNC's 306-acre Shield Ranch.

"The Verde is, above all the things I have done, the one that I have felt more kinship with and more genuine love for," says Campbell. "I have hop-scotched around and done a lot of deals but none of them have affected me in my soul in the way the Verde has.

"It's obvious to all of us that it is a living river. It's like Noah's ark, a lifeboat that is now hosting many of the species that were once here in Arizona. This is the one river that still floats."

Dan Campbell retired from TNC in July 2012, but says he has no intentions of retiring from his efforts to keep the ark afloat.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013
Article comment by: Don Christensen

Your years have obviously affected many including mine with fond memories of your guided nature walks in Marin County, CA. As a natural resources educator, you've inspired me and uncountable others in our love and understanding of nature.

Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Article comment by: John Lorant

Keep on truckin', Dan.

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Article comment by: Win Hjalmarson

Many thanks to Dan and TNC for the many deeds that protect and preserve our natural resources--especially our rivers and streams.

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