Gary Chamberlain thinks litter in the Verde Valley is so prevalent it’s making the area look like a third world country.

There are plenty of people who agree with him.

A Vietnam veteran who was shipped home from the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Armored Division B Troop with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, Chamberlain is an independent contractor who exercises by

Cross best-selling author Tony Hillerman with veteran author Sue Grafton and what have you got — the best of both worlds in a hybrid writer named Sandi Ault who’s coming to the Well Red Coyote bookstore in West Sedona on Thursday, March 12, at 7 p.m.

According to Joe Neri, co-owner of the bookstore, Ault’s last workshop ranked as one of the best ever and he anticipates nothing less this time.

In 2008, Red Rock State Park’s payroll was $333,410, including benefits, and its operating expenses were $60,992 for a total debit side of $394,402, according to Ellen Bilbrey, public information officer for Arizona State Parks.

On the credit side, the park brought in $189,122 through revenues from gate fees and other fees.

That leaves a difference of $205,280 if the park were expected to be self-funding — which it is not.

Glistening rimes of ice turned to liquid crystal, melted by the early morning sun as hike leader Jack Conklin pointed visitors toward the Mogollon Rim, telling them stories about Louis Boucher, hermit of the Grand Canyon.

Listening intently were two women from Germany, a family of four from Phoenix and one man from Colorado, the first of dozens of people arriving at Red Rock State Park early on Feb. 21.

At the same time, a band of early-morning birdwatchers followed hike leader John Moore across Oak Creek, pausing on Kingfisher Bridge to look at dappled sycamores where lesser goldfinches, a Northern flicker, Western bluebirds and Say’s phoebes were preening, silhouetted against the sky.

Hailing from Tobermory, Canada, Seattle, Wash., Tucson and Sedona, the binocular-raising, feather-seeking visitors continued on their way, heading up the path toward House of Apache Fires.

Behind them came several families: a threesome from St. Charles, Mich., a couple from Boston, Mass., two people from Portland, Maine, two couples from Colorado, a family of four Eastern Indians, and a local couple heading out for an all-day hike on the Turkey Creek Trail.

Visitors to Jerome State Park, Tonto Natural Bridge and McFarland State Bridge weren’t so lucky, shut out by the Arizona State Parks Board who voted to temporarily close them for repairs at the Feb. 20 board meeting.

Although Red Rock State Park wasn’t closed, layoffs have left Park Manager Gary Arbeiter with only five people on staff.

The ranger has worked for Arizona State Parks since 1990 and at Red Rock State Park since 1997.

“We have been underfunded for years,” Arbeiter said. “There is no fluff out here.”

So far, he believes visitors to his park have been unaffected due to extraordinary efforts and sacrifices by the remaining staff and due to an unusually large and dedicated corps of volunteers.

“Before the furloughs we were at about 50 percent staff and 50 percent volunteers,” Arbeiter said. “Now it’s more like 40 percent staff, 60 percent volunteers.”

Although they’ve been able to maintain what he described as “an acceptable level of service,” Arbeiter doesn’t think the present arrangement is sustainable once the park’s busy season begins in March.

“We’re open 12 hours a day and we’re running both an entry station and the visitor center,” Arbeiter said. “That’s a total of three people per day just for those positions.”

The manager’s biggest concern is the uncertainty.

“Visitors book their weddings and picnics here a year in advance,” Arbeiter said. “We have 30 weddings scheduled between now and July 1, and I intend to honor those commitments.”

At $50 for four hours, the park is a bargain for brides who want spectacular backdrops for their photographs.

The only other cost is admission to the park which is $7 per carload, not much considering the level of expertise and attention visitors enjoy.

“Three of our five staff have national interpretive training,” Arbeiter said. “They make positive connections with the folks who visit here, passing on their knowledge.”

Judy and Daryl Cowell of Tobermory, Ontario, are among those enjoying their experience at the park, having a close look at an Anna’s hummingbird.

Another birder is Carolyn Leaver who’s staying in Sedona for four months, a welcome respite from the winter in Seattle.

Non-birders Patrick Beauchamp and Phyllis Russell are in the red rocks on vacation, visiting Tuzigoot earlier in the week and taking the Verde Valley Railroad trip to Perkinsville.

Using the park as their trailhead for Turkey Creek, locals Celeste and James Cates have their hiking sticks at the ready.

“We like it here because it has a nice secure parking lot,” Celese said. “Our windows were smashed out when we parked

at one of the forest service trails.”

The Cates consider the park a critical outlet for tourists, particularly when the forest is closed due to fire restrictions.

“It’s the only place that remains open to the tourists,” Celeste said.

With three out of the four state parks in Yavapai County in jeopardy, she feels the area is being unjustly targeted.

“This would have an enormous [financial] impact,” Celeste said.

James Johnson of Cornville is a frequent visitor to the Verde Valley’s state parks, along with his children.

“Without Dead Horse Ranch State Park, many parents of small kids wouldn’t have a safe place to take their kids to ride bicycles and hike,” Johnson said. “Most every street in this area is nothing more than a corridor, functionally a drag strip. With 4 million annual tourists and people running late to work, it’s even scary for a veteran cyclist who’s raced bicycles in major cities across the U.S.”

Johnson described Dead Horse Ranch State Park as a “patrolled dead-end that offers a 15 mph safe haven” for pedestrian activities as well as offering horseback riding.

“Both my children learned to ride there. I’ve talked to other parents and I’m not alone. It’s our only good choice,” Johnson said.

Although his children get plenty of hands-on experience in nature, Johnson worries that others may soon be deprived of learning preservation and conservation.

“The structured access that state parks provides is of immeasurable benefit to us,” Johnson said.

Back at the Miller Visitor Center, the families from Maine and India are taking photographs, framed against the Seven Sisters rock formation.

Both groups are in the area just for the day, stopping on their way to the Grand Canyon.

In the meantime, Arbeiter is sitting tight.

“We’re not making any decisions or changes until we see what happens next,” Arbeiter said. “I don’t think the board’s first preference is closures; we’ve gone two rounds now without being.

A Rimrock couple hung on for their lives Monday, Feb. 23, after their ATV was suddenly swept into the cold waters of West Beaver Creek.

They were treated at Verde Valley Medical Center for possible hypothermia, and the female was released.

“Their body temperatures were still in a normal range,” Camp Verde Fire District firefighter Jake Cecil said. “They weren’t too hypothermia yet.”

Montezuma-Rimrock Fire District received the call at 7:51 p.m. to respond to North Culpepper Road.

According to MRFD Capt. Tim White, the couple was trying to cross at a low-water crossing when their ATV got swept up in the fast water.

“It’s the time of year. The snow melted very quickly. The water came up a couple feet throughout the day,” White said.

The water pushed the couple about 20 feet until they grabbed dried brush that they clung to until rescuers were called.

Crews from MRFD, CVFD, Sedona Fire District and an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter responded.

Rescuers lowered a raft into the water from a foot bridge and moved it on a tether to reach the stranded victims.

SFD Capt. Tim Lefler, who teaches swift water rescue as in instructor for Rescue 3 International, said in this area, he’s rescued more people from rivers than burning buildings.

The water was too deep to stand, he said, and cold.

“You lose your body heat 25 times faster in the water than the air,” Lefler said. “They were extremely cold when we got to them.”

Despite the elements, the couple really toughed it out,

he said.

“I don’t know how much longer they could have held on. They were getting pretty tired of holding on,” he said.

Camp Verde gets a lot of water rescue calls this time of year, Cecil said. With all of the snow melting, the streams swell up with runoff.

MRFD is continually training in swift water and rope rescue, Capt. Dale Duns said, and it was great to see the local departments work together for a safe rescue.

Eight years ago, no one in the Verde Valley had swift water training, according to Lefler.

“It was really rewarding to see that everyone was on the same sheet of music and we did a successful rescue,” he said. “We’re all working out of the same concepts.”

Alison Ecklund can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 125, or e-mail

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Stop foreclosure, lower your payments and take charge of your financial future. Join the Sedona Creative Life Center for a live seminar Saturday, Feb. 28, from 1 to 4 p.m., with a question and answer session at the end at the center in Sedona.

This comprehensive, three-hour, in-depth instructional class will provide you with all the tools you need to keep your home, prevent foreclosure, lower payments, understand loan modification, learn to modify loans, effectively negotiate with your lender and view your situation from your bank’s perspective, stated a press release.

Learn what a forensic loan audit is and the three things you do not tell your bank. Seven out of 10 loans have legal issues, and you need to know why this is extremely important for your situation.

You have power over your bank, so exercise that power and lower your payments.

This three-hour presentation not only teaches you exactly what you need to successfully renegotiate your loan, it provides you with a template for a powerfully effective hardship letter. You will also be supplied with free forms needed to take control of your financial situation. You can even earn extra income helping others — this class will show you how.

Tickets are $89 in advance, $99 at the door, and are available at the Golden Word Bookstore and The Worm Bookstore in the Village of Oak Creek.

Get tickets online along with more information. Watch free videos at


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