June 29th was the last day on the job for Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area Executive Director Charles Flynn. Flynn was honored this week during the annual meeting of Visit Yuma for his impact on the community. KAWC's Kim Johnson was there and has details.....
In his 19 years on the job Flynn is credited with being the catalyst for Yuma's reconnection with the Colorado River. He says when he arrived in Yuma it was a river city with no river access, but he says he knew people here wanted that to change.....
FLYNN..."When I got here 19 years ago I sensed the community's real hunger to make something happen. We had the situation where it's a desert community but there was no connection, and there was a desire to re-connect. And I saw that committment and that really helped me decide to come here and do this, cause I knew the resources would be backed up and, and we could make things happen.
The other thing is it was not a political issue. Whether you were liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican it didn't matter. Everyone wanted the riverfront to be cleaned up and accessible to the community. And that translated also up in D.C. where we had very strong bipartisan support for the project.
Between 2000 and 2011 we raised 40 million dollars on the riverfront and the downtown. It was city, state, and federal funds so there was a committment, not only words but deeds and funds to make this happen. "
When you first arrived 19 years ago, did you expect you'd would be staying that long?
FLYNN..."You know I did not, what happened was we had too much success. You develop a plan and all of a sudden you're executing huge amounts of it. And right about the time that I thought, well maybe I'll look at something else, the combination of the crash which limited other cities from doing anything, but more importantly, saving the state parks which occurred in 2009-10 that was a huge challenge and something I really wanted to get involved in, my staff and the community wanted. And saving those and making them showpieces has really been sort of the second act of what we've done."
Do you have a lot of pride over what's been accomplished?
FLYNN..."Day to day you're working on the next project, you're head is down and working on something. But when you look at the scale of the whole thing, seven miles of riverfront, two riverfront parks, seven miles of trails, hundreds of acres of wetlands restoration and a downtown that's truly been revitalized, it staggers the imagination that that all got done. Cause you do it one day at a time you don't do it 19 years at a time."
Is there something in particular that really sticks out in you mind over your time here?
FLYNN..."Two things. Back in 2000 when we were just trying to get the West Wetlands off the ground we were required by the National Park Service to do a management plan. People kept coming up to these meetings saying we're tired of planning let's do something. So we did a tree planting in October of 2000. We got 700 trees donated by various landscape companies and we wanted people to come out and plant these 700 trees. A thousand people showed up. It it told me the community is absolutely committed.
That's one, the other is, the opening of Gateway Park which was in 2007. And instantaneously it was mobbed all the time by people wanting to use the Colorado River. It's that connection to the river, almost instinctual, it's almost spiritual connection to the river that has helped revitalize Yuma."
Flynn says he is happy with Lowell Perry Junior as his replacement in the job and confident the Heritage Area will continue to move forward. Flynn and his wife, Ann Walker, plan to take a few weeks to visit National Parks as they make their way to Philadelphia, where his son and family live. Flynn says he and his wife eventually plan on becoming Yuma winter visitors.