Oak Creek Watershed Voluntourism Program

The Oak Creek Watershed Council (OCWC) and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau (SCC&TB) recently partnered on a volunteer cleanup program in Oak Creek Canyon.  As residents, we understand the importance of Oak Creek and we deeply value this gem that literally brings life to our region.  The partnership involved engaging our visitors in way that allows them to positively contribute to stewardship of our greatest treasure and to connect with locals while learning to take care of our land.  Some people call this effort a good example of “voluntourism” which is defined as “the act or practice of doing volunteer work as needed in the community where one is vacationing”.  More and more people want to positively contribute to the place they visit, and this program is a great way for visitors to give back to Sedona.

The OCWC recruited Sedona area visitors as volunteers from August 2017 through March 2018, and hosted cleanup events in Oak Creek, Red Rock Crossing, Midgely Bridge and other Oak Creek Canyon sites.  Many of the cleanup dates were co-hosted by local organizations like the Rotary Club of Sedona, Sedona Wyndham Resort and Northern Arizona University.
6Since the SCC&TB sponsorship began in July 2017, Verde Watershed Ambassadors engaged 312 volunteers in 13 cleanup events.  Staff and volunteers picked up 2,325 pounds of trash, including 1,318 pounds of unrecyclable litter, 132 pounds of glass, 733 pounds of recyclables, 148 pounds of feces and 60 diapers in the Oak Creek Watershed. “This is a lot of trash,” says Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO of the SCC&TB.  “We need to do a much better job of educating the people recreating in Oak Creek and promoting the “leave no trace” program.  For tourism to be sustainable, we must be more diligent in proactively embracing stewardship.  Specifically, we need to work on providing enough waste receptacles to help alleviate this type of massive litter in our community.  This program is a great start to helping the problem, but there is much more work still to be done.”

“We partnered on this program to illustrate our commitment to protecting our environment and ensuring that our tourism industry benefits our community,” says Lonnie Lillie, a longtime Sedona resident and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the SCC&TB.  “When I first moved to Sedona 33 years ago, I lived in a home on Oak Creek and I have a deep connection to protecting it for our future generations.”

In addition to the cleanup events, the program was also geared towards engaging volunteers in the Oak Creek Ecological Health Project.  Over 20 volunteers were trained in scientific survey methods and collected data for a study to investigate the impacts of sediment on Oak Creek stream ecology.  Volunteers collected sediment and macroinvertebrate samples upstream and downstream of a sediment input point at the mouth of Carroll Canyon Wash, which drains west Sedona.  Preliminary findings were presented, and volunteers recently returned to complete the spring 2018 sampling.

The OCWC regularly conducts stewardship, education and citizen science activities supported by a group of contracts and grants.  The SCC&TB and the OCWC are long-time partners, and this project made a lot of sense to support.  This program is one of many initiatives that the SCC&TB contributed to in an effort to benefit our neighbors and the entire ecosystem of the Verde Valley.  The SCC&TB is limiting the amount of bed tax money we use for marketing and is focusing more and more on stewardship and sustainability programs like this one.
voluntourism-2Our community has emphasized the importance of sustainability and we will continue to make efforts like this a priority.  We’re focusing on quality of life, quality of the economy and stewardship of our natural environment.   So much so, that in the upcoming year, more than double the amount of bed tax money will be spent on community reinvestment programs instead of visitor advertising outside of Sedona.

Our Board of Directors is committed to stewardship of our natural landscape as one of the top focus areas, along with transportation solutions.  In the upcoming months, we’ll share six other Stewardship programs slated for the coming year including a Sustainable Tourism Plan – led by the City of Sedona, the SCC&TB, Nichols Tourism Group and Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability.  This plan will help us, as a community, address how to achieve responsible tourism planning and management to ensure that Sedona continues to thrive in all areas.
voluntourism-1Why does sustainable tourism matter?  Because for Sedona to survive and continue to benefit residents’ quality of life, the environment, and the visitor experience, we must be diligent regarding responsible destination management.  It’s with this intent in mind that the SCC&TB will continue to partner with organizations like the Oak Creek Watershed Council for years to come.

–Michelle Conway, Director of Marketing