[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — The Rio Salado habitat project, just south of downtown Phoenix, is a hidden jewel of nature that attracts egrets, ospreys and more than 200 other bird species – but relatively few people. That may be about to change after today, when the city opens the final 1.5 miles of the riverside habitat and prepares to unveil a new nature center. The once-dry river, which had been a dumping ground for industrial businesses along its banks, is a symbol of renewal.
The $100 million, 600-acre park, which envelops the Salt River from 19th Avenue to 24th Street, is an oasis of cottonwood trees, marshes, waterfalls and trails just as the city envisioned more than a decade ago. The first part of the habitat-restoration area, between 19th Avenue and 16th Street, opened in 2005. Today, the parkland between 16th and 24th streets will open to the public. “What we have been able to do is take this underutilized riverbed and create a public amenity,” said Karen Williams, a deputy parks director, adding that $500 million in commercial and housing development has been built within 7 miles of the park since 2000. “It’s a wonderful amenity for the public and wildlife, and it can be a trigger for development,” she said. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]