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Sailboat on Tempe Town Lake
Smaller sailboats have the run of Tempe Town Lake, weaving between bridges and viewing parkside features. Photo courtesy City of Tempe

Tempe Rio Salado Project

Founded in 1871, Tempe, Arizona's sixth largest city, is bordered by Scottsdale, Mesa, Phoenix and Chandler and is home to Arizona State University. The Tempe Rio Salado (Spanish for "Salt River") Project is a community-inspired plan to restore part of the once flowing Salt River from a barren utility corridor into an engineered flood-control project that has been enhanced to meet the recreational, environmental, and economic needs of Tempe.

In the first half of the 20th century, the Salt River had periodically wreaked havoc on transportation, destroyed buildings and homes, unearthed landfills and carried debris downstream. In 1966 James Elmore, Dean of the College of Architecture at Arizona State University, challenged the students to bring vitality back to the then-barren Salt River bed. Their initial project led to the adoption of a plan to convert the dry riverbed into a meandering urban park. Beginning with that effort, Tempe's Rio Salado Project is the culmination of more than three subsequent decades of study and planning. Reintroducing water to a dry riverbed surrounded by utility corridors and susceptible to flooding provided unique problem-solving challenges, which were met by constructing a bank-stabilized floodway channel within the Salt River, thus recovering land from the flood plain for a linear park system.

The centerpiece of the project is the recently opened 220-acre Tempe Town Lake, a two-mile-long waterway, surrounded by parks and habitat spanning more than 5.5 miles in length and one mile in width. The 72 acres of linear park will provide bicycle and pedestrian paths, in-line skating, roller skating and picnicking. For serious walkers/joggers, the 5.5 miles of pathways in within the park will link to another path 18 miles north into Scottsdale. Hundreds of citizens and more than 25 government agencies have been involved with developing this local and regional urban attraction.

Environmental groups have joined forces to provide urban habitat for native plant and animal species. Rio Salado also provides ample educational opportunities: Presentations are made to local schools and nursing homes, businesses and civic groups; outdoor environmental programs provide native habitat for study; and interpretive signs throughout the park highlight the industry, history, hydrology, and botany of the Tempe area. Public art ranges from stand-alone monuments to a large tile mural. Designed by hundreds of citizens over the past four years, the mural is installed on a freeway wall, creating a ribbon of the past, present, and future of the Salt River. Planned residential developments will allow their residents to work and recreate near where they live, reducing traffic and increasing the quality of life in Tempe. Rio Salado Park, surrounding the lake, will provide a link to the lake for planned resorts, restaurants, condominiums, entertainment venues, and retail shops.

The project is documented in extensive report containing an introduction to the project; sections on goals/objectives; an historical timeline; project statistics; development plans; positive impact; a recreation menu; and frequently asked questions. Also included are 30 color slides, a postcard of the Rio Salado Project, four brochures on Tempe and its attractions, a flyer on boat cruises on Tempe Town Lake, one on Rio Salado's art, and a Visitor's Guide to Tempe, Arizona.

Originally submitted by: Matt Salmon, Representative (1st District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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