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Las Lagunas - A Community's Treasure

By Elisabeth Morales

I didn’t expect to stumble upon a hotspot for education and biodiversity right off the quiet 1-19 highway, just 8 miles from the Mexican border in Nogales, Arizona, but I was wrong.

Nestled right between the usually lonely I-19 and an old warehouse in Nogales lies a haven few know about - one last outdoor sanctuary before approaching our neighbors down south rests Las Lagunas de Anza, the last remaining wetland on the upper Santa Cruz River. What was once almost destroyed by industrialization, has made a huge comeback packed with environmental education and the bringing together of an entire community.

The serenity and sense of welcome that surrounded the site enveloped me the moment I stepped outside the car. It was easy to forget about the nearby highway right on the other side of Las Lagunas, not to mention the rest of the world. The trees were still and strung lights hung loosely throughout, weaving in and out, up and down through the branches. The many birds that call these wetlands home couldn’t be heard; perhaps it was too late in the afternoon for them. Only the dirt and leaves crunching under my shoes was audible. But it wasn’t the sound, or lack thereof, that awed me. Nor was it the tranquil water, serene aura or cattails taller than me - though these were all unforgettable.

It was the papers and photos pinned to a board of the Nogales High School Science Club and other student groups that I found most interesting. Without the help of these volunteers, this hidden gem wouldn’t even exist.

While looking over the photos, an older gentleman stepped out of the only other car in the parking lot and introduced himself as Don Clemans, the president of the Las Lagunas de Anza Wetlands Foundation. It was then that I was led to an open area with tables surrounded by the lights and trees, a perfect place for a picnic. A few moments behind him was Antony Sedgwick, the man whose family is behind it all.

Cabot Sedgwick, Antony’s grandfather, originally purchased the property in 1999 with intentions to drain, fill and develop it as a residential or commercial property. That changed once he was told of its historic and natural value.

“It’s pretty rare these days for someone to choose preservation instead of profiting off the land,” said Antony. It’s obvious this site means a great deal to his family.

The three of us sat under the protection of the trees and I was briefed on the unique history of this special area.     

In a state where a third of the wetlands no longer exist, the Sedgwick’s have been protecting and preserving this area for years, along with the help of Don and many other volunteers. It wasn’t always as visually appealing as is it is today though.

According to Don, at one point the marshland was overwhelmed with cattails and mostly uninhabited by wildlife. Today, thanks to the student volunteers from Nogales High School Science Club and grants from various federal agencies, it’s an ideal wetland that serves as home to various birds such as flying egrets, black-bellied whistling ducks, black-crowned night herons and more.

Rather than playing video games or sleeping in on a Saturday morning, students would arrive at Las Lagunas de Anza prepared to help. Not only did the students pull cattails, but also built docks with no help from any power tools and planted a few different gardens, including Heritage and Discovery Gardens. Secured with wire fencing, the vegetables are free to grow in Heritage Garden, some are even protected from the harsh Arizona sun by the shade of a mesquite tree. Sunflowers line a portion of the fencing and a white plastic chair lounges near the pumpkins, inviting people to sit and admire their beauty.

An old fishing boat filled with tall red roses caught my eye towards the back of Heritage Garden. It seemed so out of place, but it only added to the wetland’s enchantment. Students and children with troubled backgrounds come here to work with Antony and plant their own tomatoes, squash and melons as well.

“Once a kid saw a bird and wanted to throw a rock at it,” said Antony. “I used it as a learning opportunity and put him in charge of protecting the birds. He thought that was the coolest thing.”

Tucked away across the parking lot, sat Discovery Garden. It’s hidden under trees and is visible solely because of a wooden archway with the words “Discovery Garden” etched on top. It feels like a butterfly wonderland with bright yellow or black wings fluttering around from plant to plant. Raised cement blocks painted with vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds are filled with peppers, squash, melons, corn and sunflowers and colorful spiders hide away in their webs throughout. The bright colors and Spanish feel serve as a reminder of the proximity to the border.

Complete with gardens, wildlife, a trail, bird observation decks, a gallery and educational ramadas, the perfect outdoor classroom was created and the community loves it. It is easy to see by the care and upkeep put into Las Lagunas and by the smile on Antony’s face when he talks about his “kids” and how much they love helping and learning here.

And that’s what they’ve always wanted it to be.

After witnessing the final product of the hard work put in by the community, I know to never underestimate what can be right around the corner. Who knew turning off exit 8 of the quiet I-19 would lead me to this oasis in the desert? 

Las Lagunas de Anza Information:

Address:
Las Lagunas de Anza
966 West Country Club Dr
Nogales, Arizona
85621

For more information on The Las Lagunas de Anza, please visit their website at:
Las Lagunas de Anza

Want to schedule a time for your school or group to visit Las Lagunas?

Contact them at:
Santa Fe Ranch P.O. Box 1386 Nogales, Az 85628
Email: santaferanch@theriver.com,
Telephone: (520) 287-7051 

 

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