As a proud Arizona native, I have always loved and appreciated the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert. My family and I are avid outdoor enthusiasts and we often spend our free time off-roading, exploring new trails and camping. Over the years, one of our favorite areas has become the Four Peaks Wilderness Area, approximately 30 minutes northeast of Phoenix. Understanding the need to keep our deserts clean and free of trash, I have been a volunteer with the Copperstate 4 Wheelers at their annual Four Peaks Cleanup for the past six years. Since 2009, the nonprofit group has hosted an annual cleanup of the popular spot. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, the group has removed an average of two tons of trash each year for the past 12 years. However, since 2020, the event has evolved and now includes a major revegetation effort.
When the 2020 Bush Fire burned almost 200,000 acres in and around the Tonto National Forest and surrounding areas northeast of Phoenix, Arizona, thousands of trees, cacti and native vegetation were destroyed. With the intensification of fires due to drier summers, drought and rising temperatures, recovery is increasingly difficult. When representatives from Tonto National Forest surveyed the burn area, they realized the severe destruction of the native vegetation and acted.
Thousands of saguaros, barrel cactus and agave, many of which were several decades old, struggled to survive the post-fire ecosystem. These native plants help provide valuable habitats to a variety of wildlife in this area. While mesquites and other desert trees can grow relatively quickly from seed, saguaros can take almost a decade to grow their first inch, and barrel cacti can take a decade to grow 10” in diameter. To restore this area to its natural splendor, hundreds of saguaros and barrel cactus needed to be replanted in this badly burned area, starting with the areas close to the road and public use spaces. With generous donations of salvaged cacti, the volunteer group planted almost 300 cacti at the first revegetation event. Since the first event, Tonto National Forest has partnered with several other local groups, and the effort to revegetate this area continues. The hope is the area will recover and return to its natural beauty. In the meantime, you can join me at this fantastic event the first Saturday of November, every year.