Teens turn to drug trafficking in Nogales, Arizona

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Genesis Lara/ Arizona Sonora News.

The border fence separates the sister cities of Nogales, Ariz. and Nogales, Son. (Photo: Genesis Lara/Arizona Sonora News)

With 1.2 pounds of methamphetamine concealed on his back and legs, 13-year-old Rene was arrested at the Interstate 19 Border Patrol checkpoint in April 2016.

He was charged with unlawful transportation of a dangerous drug for sale.

Fast forward to March of this year. The now 15-year-old was recently present in a juvenile court hearing to receive his sentence.

He sat before the judge in his juvenile detention uniform, with a couple of family members in the audience declaring their willingness to help after his release.

Rene represents only one of several teen drug traffickers who have become a small part of the culture along the border town of Nogales, Arizona. For them, it’s a quick trip to money and fame.

As of March 30, the Santa Cruz County Detention Center was housing eight individuals between the ages of 15 and 17, four of whom were apprehended with substantial amounts of drugs, according to Tivo Romero, the county’s chief probation officer.

One of these individuals was charged for possession of 41 pounds of methamphetamine; two co-offenders were charged with 139 pounds of marijuana; and the other was accused of driving a vehicle with 699 pounds of marijuana.

While many factors play a role in adolescents succumbing to the drug business, Romero says instability at home is the most common influencer.

“Oftentimes, they come from families that are very poor and I can understand why some of these kids make the choice to try to traffic drugs,” says Romero. “I’m not justifying what they did, but it makes sense.”

As Romero puts it, anyone might consider turning to the drug business if it means being able to help put food on the table for the entire family.

But economic factors are not always to blame. .

As Romero and the chief of the Nogales Police Department agree, the social pressure along the border plays a great deal in these teenagers’ decisions.

“No matter how you see it, it’s a lucrative business. It’s easy money,” says Police Chief Roy Bermudez. “Unfortunately, there are some kids that get into that, but [majority of the time], it’s the values that they were raised with.”

María Badilla, Rene’s cousin, says his neighbors in Mexico threatened him that harm would come to his family if he did not transport the drugs.

“I don’t think those kids are picked randomly,” says Bermudez. “I think there has to be an interest, there has to be a circle of who they are hanging out with, who they socialize with.” 

The ages of young minors also play a major role in the social peer pressure to traffic drugs.

“Kids can often get lured in as a result of the thinking that, because they’re kids, nothing is gonna happen to them,” says Romero.

However, this thinking has not always shown to be true.

For example, Romero says the teen who allegedly had 41 pounds of meth committed the crime so close to turning 18 that he’s now being prosecuted as an adult.

“He’s 17, and there’s a pretty good possibility that he’s going to earn a felony conviction,” says Romero. “That’s something a lot of these kids don’t understand – that it’s gonna follow them.”

Bermudez also adds that laws have gotten stricter on minors committing these drug-related offenses.

“They used to use juveniles to drive these cars, so they were stopped with 300 to 400 pounds. And since they were juveniles, they wouldn’t get prosecuted,” says Bermudez. “The County Attorney George Silva has sent the message that it doesn’t make a difference how old you are.”

Romero explains that the U.S. Attorney’s Office often does not prosecute minors involved in drug-related offenses when caught by federal agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. However, there are community authorities who decide to take over those cases.

“To avoid having these juveniles walk away without consequences, the cases are picked up by the Santa Cruz County Attorney’s Office and prosecuted,” says Romero.

The county’s Juvenile Probation division processed 33 of these cases in fiscal year 2017, and has processed 19 in fiscal year 2018 so far, according to Romero.

“That’s the only way we’re gonna make a difference in this community,” says Bermudez. “We can’t ignore the problem because we’re just condoning it.”

Rene serves as a clear example of these stricter actions against teen drug trafficking, as his case was initially picked up by the U.S. Border Patrol, but prosecuted through the Santa Cruz County Attorney’s office.

On March 20, Judge Thomas Fink allowed for Rene’s release from the juvenile detention facility under several conditions. Rene was to live with his cousin, María, in Tucson, where he was to enroll in school and obey by all laws; he was prohibited from entering Mexico to avoid another related incident; and he was to return to court in May for a check-in and follow-up of his case.

The border fence stands 18 to 30 feet tall along the border in Ambos, Nogales. The structure of the fence gives border agents visibility to the other side. (Photo: Genesis Lara/Arizona Sonora News)

Safe town despite the border issues

Regardless of the issues that naturally surround the community, Bermudez states that Nogales, Arizona, remains a very safe town.

There may be a small trend of juveniles turning to the drug business, but it does not mean that every adolescent will wind up trafficking drugs.

Romero explains they have received an overall average of 450 referrals in the last few fiscal years. About 20 percent of these referrals were for drug-related offenses, and 10 percent of those consisted of substantial amounts of drugs.

Romero also points out that some cases involve the same individuals who may be getting referred multiple times in one year.

As Bermudez lays it out, many people have the wrong idea of the safety in the community.

“Unfortunately, we take a bad rep because of our sister city Nogales, Sonora,” says Bermudez. “A lot of people don’t bother to differentiate the U.S. and the Mexico side of Nogales.”

According to the Mexican newspaper El Imparcial, Nogales, Sonora, saw a total of 38 homicides between January and August 2017. In the same time period, there were 226 homicides in 2010 and 66 in 2014.

In the sister city of Nogales, Arizona, records showed only two murder cases in the past six years. Aside from assisting other agencies, some of the top incidents that the NPD responded to in 2017 were 69 traffic violations, 26 served warrants and 17 assaults.

Bermudez says the community is fortunate to have strong law enforcement and the smooth collaboration between each agency, but he believes the city needs to strive toward being more visible and building a strong trust with the public.

“This is their police department, this is their community,” says Bermudez. “It’s everybody’s responsibility to keep it safe, so we need everybody’s help.”

Genesis Lara is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at genesislara@email.arizona.edu

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Alzheimer’s to grow 43 percent in Arizona by 2025

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Megan Gibbs.

Xiara Rodriguez’s Great Grandmother and Cousin visiting in a Alzheimers care facility. 

By 2025, Arizona will see a 43 percent increase in residents with Alzheimer’s disease, officials say, but they fear the state is unprepared to handle the upsurge.

“We do not have the resources needed for this rapid growth of seniors,” said Morgen Hartford, the Alzheimer’s Association’s regional director for Southern Arizona.

About 140,000 Arizona residents are diagnosed with some form of Alzheimer’s, but association officials say that number will grow to over 200,000 people by 2025.

“What we are looking at is nothing short of a phenomenon in demographic change in the Baby Boomer generation,” said Adina Wingate of the Pima Council on Aging.

Arizona would have the largest growth rate in the country for Alzheimer’s, according to the Arizona Alzheimer’s State Plan. And according to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), the disease is the fourth-leading cause of death in the state.

There is no current cure for Alzheimer’s, and it cannot be prevented. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a progressive disease that causes mental deterioration of brain cells that affect memory and behavior.

Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are not the only ones affected. “In most cases the individual’s families become their caregivers,” Hartford said.

s there are more than 15 million caregivers in the United States who provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Xiara Rodriguez, a student at the University of Arizona, has had three cases of Alzheimer’s in her family in which her mother and grandmother were the caretakers.

“My mom and grandma would get them ready in the morning, give them their pills, get breakfast ready, bathe them, dress them, make them food, keep the house clean, make sure groceries were stocked, doctors’ appointments made, and finances controlled,” Rodriguez said.

When things get too overwhelming, “sometimes people need more care than their family can provide, and that is a hard decision to make,” Hartford said.

“Everyday I’m consciously thinking of my mom, grandmother, my sister and I growing old and getting Alzheimers,” Rodriguez said.

Not only is the caretaking of individual with Alzheimer’s a tremendous responsibility, but “the financial burden is huge,” Hartford said.

The Medicaid cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s is $364 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. As of 2017, Medicare spending per capita is $23,885 in the United States.

“We better do something,” Hartford said. “It is important for our state legislatures to take notice, for members of Congress to federally step up and support the living with Alzheimer disease and those caring for them.”

Megan Gibbs is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at megangibbs@email.arizona.edu

 

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Living off the land with the Tohono O’odham tribe

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Sammy minsk.

The cholla buds are dumped into a pot and boiled until they become rubbery. (Photo by: Sammy Minsk/Arizona Sonora News)

What tastes like a mix between an asparagus and artichoke, has about the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk and is found in the Sonoran Desert?

Ciolim, also known as “the cholla bud,” is native to Southwest Arizona and is a food staple of the largest Native American tribe in Southern Arizona, the Tohono O’odham Nation.     

Right before the cholla bud blooms is the optimal time to be picked, noting the vibrant purple tips. (Photo Credit)

At the tribe’s San Xavier Food Co-op Farm, members hold workshops sharing traditional crop processing techniques of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Due to its richness in calcium and accessibility on the reservation, the cholla bud is one of the many crops in the tribe’s diet.

The bud can be harvested using different methods, including utilizing other plants from the environment.

“People are surprised how much you can use from the land,” said produce coordinator Jamie Encinas.

On the co-op’s 27-acres, the cholla cactus scatters the land with clustered branches jetting out in different directions. Saul Camacho, whose mother used to work at the co-op, said “the bud has to be picked before it blooms. Look for the small buds with purple tops. Once it blooms, you can’t eat it anymore.”

To avoid the thorns, kitchen tongs are necessary to twist and pluck off the bud off the cactus. Traditionally, two pieces of saguaro ribs wrapped in cloth at one end, called wa:pai, were used for tongs.

Wa-pai tongs made from saguaro ribs. (Photo by: Sammy Minsk/Arizona Sonora News)

“You have to be careful of how you pick the buds because the thorns can get on you or fly onto your clothes,” said Saul’s mother, Thomasina Camacho.  

There are a number of ways to get the thorns off the bud, which have been refined over the years. Natives use to cut off branches from creosote bush and whack the buds while they lay on a flat surface.

The creosote bush is used to wack off the thorns of the cholla buds. (Photo by: Sammy Minsk/Arizona Sonora News)

People also used a large metal screen, with wood bordering the edges. The buds are poured onto the screen and people on either side of the screen hold on to it and rock it back and forth in a swinging motion for about 10 minutes, or until most of the thorns get caught in the holes and fall off.

    The most popular way today to remove the thorns is by using a heat-free pepper roaster, which churns the buds in a 50 gallon metal mesh drum. Just like the screen, the thorns are caught in the holes and fall off onto the ground.

After the buds are dethorned, they are poured into a large pot of boiling water and cooked until they become rubbery. “If they are cooked too long, they break like a pickle,” said events coordinator and resident Phyllis Valenzuela. The buds should only be cooked partially, as they will be cooked again before they are ready to be eaten.

Cholla buds are dumped onto a screen and shaken back and forth. Thorns are caught in the holes and fall off. (Photo by: Sammy Minsk/Arizona Sonora News)

The buds are drained and placed onto a table outside, where they dry for one to two weeks. The table is lined with metal mesh and bordered with thin slabs of wood to keep the buds from flying off. “The weather is the main issue because if it’s windy the buds fly off,” said nursery coordinator Cie’na Schlaefli. “And if it rains, we have to quickly put a tarp over them. They also have to be turned so they don’t mold, but the color of the buds interpret what to look for. If they are whitish gray, then they’ve been sitting too long.”

  

Produce coordinator Jamie Encinas checks to make sure the thorns have fallen off the buds while in the roaster. (Photo by: Sammy Minsk/Arizona Sonora News)

After they’ve been dried, the buds are ready to be stored. Before they are eaten, they are boiled for a few minutes to put the moisture back into the cholla bud.

“They’re good on salads,” said Thomasina Camacho. “You can pickle them, make pico de gallo, eggs, lots of stuff.”

Sammy Minsk is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at minsk@email.arizona.edu

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Autism Spectrum Disorder: No two alike

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Gabby Goduco and Alexa Wallen/Arizona Sonora News.

One in every 68 children is impacted by autism, according to the National Autism Association. Autism effects the section of the brain that’s responsible for social skills, communication and cognitive function.

When autism is caught early,  treatment, therapy, and medication can help children improve. However there is no cure.

Adults with autism especially have difficulty integrating into adult life after graduating high school. Programs like privately funded Chapel Haven West, which was founded in 1972, have made it their mission to assist adults ages 18 to 25 in this transition to living independently.

Kelli Foreman, Speech Language and Hearing Pathologist at Chapel Haven West, said, “We have our students live with us in their apartments, most of them have a roommate. They’re working on independent living skills like cooking, cleaning, and banking, and all those things that we need to learn how to do on our own.”

After two years most Chapel Haven students are able to move out and live on their own. Joe Cox, former Chapel Haven resident and now senior at the University of Arizona, lives on his own with two roommates that he met at Chapel Haven West.

Cox is considered a hybrid student and uses Chapel Haven West for other resources that includes, assisting him with his budget and recreational trips the program takes its students on.

“The skills we learn at Chapel Haven West are invaluable…They’re really helpful to people, and you know adults between the ages 18 to 25 with mild autism or other cognitive impairments,” Cox said. “They’re really helpful because it’s important for kids to learn how to live on their own away from their parents. And it’s important for them to learn how to get along with roommates. So Chapel Haven West is a really helpful program to that effect.”

According to Dr. Jennifer Casteix, a clinical associate professor in the department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at the University of Arizona,  autism can be caused by genetics, but it’s also believed to be caused by environmental factors.

“The belief appears to be that there is a genetic predisposed position to autism that is then triggered by an environmental cause. And by environmental cause, we mean maybe the mom during pregnancy had a infection, and so there was a viral or bacterial infection,” Casteix said.

“Maybe the mother was under huge stress. Advanced maternal and paternal age, so if the mother or father are older, that maybe leads to a predisposition to autism. So that’s an environmental factor. Being born and having the mom during pregnancy be three miles of a freeway. They also wonder if that’s a causal factor. So there’s still so much research, but we do know there are over 200 genes that are possibly implicated in autism,” said Casteix.

Since autism is considered a spectrum disorder, there are varying types of autism and some people who require more assistance than others.

“Some people refer to it as like the spectrum of colors on a rainbow. So you’ll have your reds and oranges, and yellows and greens and what not,” said Foreman. “So you do have folks who are needing higher support, much more higher level of support and are not really living independently nor are they really thinking that that’s their goal,” said Foreman.

Notable people such as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Mozart, and Bill Gates all fall on the autism spectrum.

However, students like Cox, say that referring to autism as high and low functioning can be offensive.

“I really don’t like it when people say, “oh I didn’t even know you were on the autism spectrum, like oh you’re so high functioning,” I’m sorry, but to me that just feels really insulting, and really lack of a better word, patronizing,” Cox said. “People with autism are just like you and me, it’s just that we have other issues. And I don’t really like it when people say “oh you’re so high functioning,” that not a really nice thing to say… We’re just like everybody else we just have different challenges that may come up in certain ways.” 

While Chapel Haven West is a great resource for people with autism seeking to live independently, many have found finding affordable outside support once they turn 18 can be a challenge.

According to Casteix, adults with autism who do not have a place to live or someone to care for them often end up in state funded foster homes, and she said for every good home there’s a not so good one.

“So, estate planning, just planning for the future which is something we always need to be thinking about is scary, and I have a feeling a lot of families don’t think about it. So if they don’t have an adult sibling who can care for them, they’re placed in a state care home,” said Casteix.

Casteix said  it’s the public school’s responsibility to assist adults with autism until the student turns 21. After turning 21, some adults end up in foster care. 

“Adults with autism are starting to call themselves autistic. I’m an autistic adult. They are claiming that cause that is part of who they are. And when we talk about curing them they counter with ‘hey wait a minute I have autism, this makes me special in this way. And why would I want to cure that? Why would I want to fight autism? That’s who I am,’ ” said Casteix.

Curing this cognitive disease is not the current goal, but for people like Joe Cox and Casteix, it’s about growing awareness and creating a place in society for those living with autism as they are because no two are the same.

Alexa Wallen and Gabby Goduco are reporters for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact them at alexawallen@email.arizona.edu and ggoduco@email.arizona.edu. 

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There’s more to agave than tequila

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Carly Oseran/Arizona Sonora News.

 

The agave is one of the most common landscape plants around Tucson, Ariz. This plant is good for the warm weather and requires little to no water. (Photograph by: Carly Oseran / Arizona Sonora News)

You can sip me, you can eat me and you can moisturize with me—what am I?

The agave plant.

Today, this plant is widely known as the key ingredient in the alcoholic beverage that is taken with lime and salt or mixed in to make margaritas, but agave has a much greater importance in the Sonoran Desert than just tequila.

“We think about tequila as the major way we know the plant today, but up until a century ago more people ate it in this region than they drank it,” said Gary Nabhan, an agricultural ecologist and ethnobotanist, who has been studying agave and other Sonoran Desert plants for decades.

Agave has been a survival essential in the Arizona-Mexico borderlands region for more than 8,000 years.

“It’s really like a staff of life plant that was important to the people of the desert southwest as buffalos were to the people of the great plains,” Nabhan said.

Before grocery stores, shopping malls and hospitals, agaves served as all of these things wrapped into one. People ate from them, made clothes from them and practiced many medicinal uses, some which are still used today.

The Hohokam people specifically harvested Agave murpheyi as a main source of food and cooked the agave hearts in oven pits built in the ground. They also baked the agave leaves to extract long pieces of fiber that were used to weave clothes and make rope, according to an article published by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Even though we no longer need agave fibers to make our clothes, the plant has become greatly underappreciated in recent years.

In order to revive the importance of agave, Nabhan has partnered with Hotel Congress to help turn its Cinco de Mayo tequila competition into a city-wide festival that educates people and celebrates the significance of agave.

“His [Nabhan’s] collaboration in the festival really helped shine a light on all the other aspects of agave outside of just spirits,” said Dalice Shepard, the senior marketing and events manager at Hotel Congress.

Gary Nabhan discussing how to cultivate agave at an Agave 101 presentation in Tucson, Ariz. Nabhan gave this presentation during the Agave Heritage Festival event that included tastings of different agave spirits. (Photograph by: Carly Oseran / Arizona Sonora News)

Tucson’s Agave Heritage Festival began in 2008 as a one-day event to help bring some attraction to Downtown Tucson. This year, the 2018 festival grows into 10 days of over 25 activities spread throughout the Tucson area. From April 27 until May 6, events that are a part of the festival happened all over the city.

“One of the things I think is really special about this festival is even though it is still a Hotel Congress event…There are more events that are happening outside our scope than within,” Shepard said. “That’s just one way to sort of show how the partnerships throughout the community have grown.”

After Tucson received its designation as the first U.S. UNESCO City of Gastronomy, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild wanted to use this as an opportunity to ramp of Tucson’s recognition for festivals as a fun way to educate people on the region’s food.

“This is a community where we value education, not just value education but try to give people a better education so what better way to do that than doing it in a festival kind of setting,” Rothschild said.

This festival is the first one to have a Tucson UNESCO City of Gastronomy sponsorship, and with the support of local businesses it has also become a community initiative to show people that there is more to agave than meets the eye.

“It’s not just about alcohol it’s about all the uses of agaves and how significant they’ve been for ten thousand years prior even to the cultivation of corn, beans and squash in Mexico and also the southwest,” said Doug Smith owner of Exo Roast Co. Smith is an anthropologist who earned a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology from Stanford University.

Kyle Bert, a local artist, playing a didgeridoo he created out of the stalk of agave in Tucson, Ariz. at an event for the Agave Heritage Festival. Bert has been transforming agave into didgeridoos for over 17 years. (Photograph by: Carly Oseran / Arizona Sonora News)

As an anthropologist and professor, Smith researched agricultural history in Mexico and he became fascinated with the mezcal traditions in different communities. Mezcal is the general term for any alcoholic beverage made with agave, while it’s sibling, tequila, can only be made with blue agave.

Smith had been an attendee at the heritage festival in past years, but this year he and his coffeehouse are part of the festival events. It was his idea to do an educational bacanora event at Exo Roast Co. that will focus on the sustainability of agave. Bacanora is Sonora’s mezcal, a special kind of alcohol that by law can only be made with a specific kind of agave, agave Pacifica.

“The key thing is the amazing process to make bacanora, it’s really, really hard work,” Smith said. “I want people to really get into it, get interested in it so that there is a lot of positive and constructive energy behind the different things that I think need to be done in order to make it viable in the future.”

The heritage festival’s combination of delicious food, authentic drinks and fun combined with the educational value will help showcase why people should care about agave and other local plants.

“There’s something about this plant that will always be relevant as long as we stay aware of its importance and recognize the sustainability of it,” Shepard said.

The agave plant can grow in and withstand some of the most brutal weather conditions.It grows in rocks and bad soil conditions with little to no water and can still produce sweet liquid and be used as food.

The agave plant serves as a reminder and tribute to the people of the Sonoran Desert and the traditions of their cultures. And the Agave Heritage Festival is the reminder to the people of Tucson to appreciate what’s in their backyard and support local plants.

“We’re lucky that it’s not just something that’s forgotten here, that it’s still a living part of our culture. This isn’t about history, this is about living heritage,” Nabhan said.

Carly Oseran is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at coseran@email.arizona.edu.

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The bittersweet departure of Arizona’s winningest player of all time

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Zach Smith.

Via @DusanRistic14 on Instagram. Caption, “Thank you Arizona!” (March 4, 2018).

As an 18-year-old, Dušan Ristić was as on the brink of accepting a professional basketball contract to play for one of the best teams in Europe, Belgrade’s “Red Star”. Before he could accept the offer, University of Arizona head coach Sean Miller called him and asked him to play for the Wildcats.

Four years later, the 7-foot Serbian is graduating from the U of A as the winningest player in program history. When asked about his decision to accept Miller’s offer, Ristić said, “It was the best decision for me because I grew as a basketball player, and I also grew as a person.”

During his senior night game, Ristić wore a shirt that read “DUŠAN LOVES TUCSON” on the back and “THANK YOU ARIZONA” on the front. He said that it took three weeks to think of the correct way to thank the city and fans for their support over the past four years of his life.

“I’m still not aware that I’m done playing in Tucson, and I’m done with games and everything. I was just thinking about it, and I was kind of sad,” he said. “I feel like, ‘Oh there’s a next year, and I’m gonna come back and play games.’ It’s really weird. It’s a really weird feeling.”

When asked what he’ll miss the most about Tucson, Ristić mentioned two things – the people and the games in McKale Center. “It’s a special feeling. Those home games are my favorite memories,” he said.

Ristić developed relationships with almost everybody involved with the Arizona basketball program. Arizona’s Associate Director of Communication Services Matt Ensor said that his relationship with Dušan was the best out of any student-athlete he’s ever worked with.

During road trips, Ristić would hang out with staff members and explore places like Hawaii, Los Angeles and the Bahamas – but one of his favorite trips came in Albuquerque this year when the Wildcats played at the University of New Mexico.

Ristić is a huge fan of the hit Netflix series Breaking Bad, which was filmed in Albuquerque. During the trip, he and Ensor visited the “Walter White House” – which was the residence of the series’ main character, Walter White.

Ensor had previously worked for UNM, and he knew the area well. “When it came up that were going to Albuquerque to play, he was like, ‘Is there any way we can at least go by the Walter White house?’ And I was like yeah we can Uber, its cheap,” said Ensor.

Ristić in front of the “Walter White House” (Via Dušan Ristić)

Ristić was obviously passionate about the possibility of visiting. He said that American Netflix and HBO shows are huge in Serbia, and he and his friends would watch shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones before he came to the states.

“It was a cool place to visit. Its not some famous historical place, but it’s a really fun place from one of the best TV shows ever,” said Ristić.

He used Netflix to learn parts of the English language as well. He was already fluent when he came to the United States, but as a freshman he would turn the subtitles on while watching shows, in order to learn slang and expand his vocabulary.

Zack Alexander, a student manager for the Arizona basketball team, said that Ristić’s accent improved over the four years that they worked together. He considers Ristić to be a good friend of his.

“A lot of the players get a big head because of the position they’re in, but he’s always kept it real. He treated the managers really well, along with the coaches and other players, just anyone,” he said. “A lot of the players will treat people differently when they start getting big, so it was cool that he didn’t.”

Although he would go out of his way to explore during road trips, Ristić had plenty of his favorite spots in his “second home” as well. Every single time his friends visited, he would take them to Guadalajara Grill. He fell in love with Tucson’s Mexican food.

He also frequented areas of northern Tucson. “It’s a beautiful area and its not like a city with big buildings. Its more about nature. I liked that part of the city a lot, especially Sabino Canyon and the north side. There’s a lot of desert, a lot of wild animals. When you think about Tucson, or the desert, you think of that place,” he said.

His hometown of Novi Sad, Serbia is 6,255 miles from Tucson. Although his parents would do their best to visit, the distance was still a factor. “It was probably hard for them, but they supported me throughout all four years. I don’t think they missed more than one or two games. They watched all of the games online. They used to wake up around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. just to watch my games,” he said.

Ticket from Arizona’s 2018 Senior Night Game featuring Ristić. (© Zach Smith 2018)

When asked about how Ristić will be remembered by the city of Tucson after his departure, Matt Ensor said he might be the most popular player ever in the history of the program. Ensor said that if Ristić ran for Mayor of Tucson right now he would, “Win in a landslide, with a record turnout.”

“But he’s a four-year guy, he’s been developed, he’s a guy who just fell in love with Tucson. He’s always talked highly of how he loved it here. To see him grow into the all-time-winningest player and to have some huge games at home, it all just kind of builds together,” he said. “He loves it here. Obviously where he goes next is up to his career, but he’ll always have a soft place in his heart for Tucson and the University of Arizona.”

As far as the future goes, Ristić said that his main goal is to play the game of basketball for as long as he can – he wants to play until he’s around 35 or 36 years old. He’s currently training in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at F2 Basketball – in lieu of the upcoming NBA Draft – and he recently competed in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

If he doesn’t make it into the NBA, Ristić said that he’ll go back to Europe and play professionally overseas. Either way he’ll be happy. Ristić is graduating with a degree in psychology and a minor in sports management. He chose psychology because of its applicability to basketball.

“I think it’s really important to know how your brain works, and as a basketball player you go through a lot of ups and downs throughout the season,” he said. “And sports management because obviously my whole life was dedicated to basketball, so one day when everything is said and done I’ll probably still stay in this business.”

Ensor said that Ristić told him that he wants to eventually work in a program or academy that can help younger Serbian players get into the game of college basketball in the United States. He almost accepted a contract offer to play for Belgrade’s “Red Star” professional team when he was younger, and he didn’t know much about NCAA sports at the time.

Ask Ristić if he has any regrets, and he’ll assure you that he made the right decision, “I was a part of a new culture, I met a lot of friends in Tucson and in the states and I learned a new language. It was an amazing experience for me these past four years.”

 

Zach Smith is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at zacharysmith@email.arizona.edu 

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Southern Arizona group merges cattle ranching, community and respect for the land

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Michaela Webb.

Saguaro Juniper’s land is located along the San Pedro River near Cascabel, Arizona. (Photo by: Michaela Webb/Arizona Sonora News Service)

Sustainability and cattle ranching aren’t typically thought of as going hand in hand, especially in desert regions. But a small group of friends has been practicing sustainable cattle ranching near Tucson, Arizona, since the late 1980s.

The group is called Saguaro Juniper Corporation– named for the unique combination of saguaro cactus and juniper trees they found in the San Pedro River valley, where the group now owns and leases hundreds of acres of land, according to Tom Orum, a founding member of Saguaro Juniper.

“Saguaro Juniper is really a tale of one thing leading to another,” Orum said. “It’s evolved over time.”

The group that eventually became Saguaro Juniper started out as a goat-milking cooperative in 1978 and was heavily involved with the sanctuary movement to protect Central American refugees fleeing genocides in their home countries.

One continuous thread through all these stories, and eventually into the establishment of Saguaro Juniper, was a Harvard-educated philosopher, writer and rancher from Casper, Wyoming named Jim Corbett. Corbett, who helped found the sanctuary movement, was a driving energy behind the “goat and garden group,” a goat-milking cooperative and early iteration of Saguaro Juniper, and a founding and philosophically influential member of the group, according to Orum.

Jim Corbett was a founding member of Saguaro Juniper. His ideas about community and the rights of people, animals and the land helped shape the group’s philosophy. (Photo courtesy of Saguaro Juniper)

 

Respect for land and conservation

Saguaro Juniper is unlike other cattle ranching operations because of the way its members understand their relationship with the land and its other occupants. They believe the land has rights, and sees their cattle operation as a way to interact respectfully with, and in some cases, improve the quality of the land.

“The central theme of Saguaro Juniper has been embodied in the covenant,” Orum said. “That’s caring for the land and having a human presence active on the land at the same time.”

The covenant he’s talking about is a document that governs Saguaro Juniper’s decision-making. It lays out a set of five principles:

“1. The land has a right to be free of human activity that accelerates erosion.
2. Native plants and animals on the land have a right to life with a minimum of human disturbance.
3. The land has the right to evolve its own character from its own elements without scarring from construction or the importation of foreign objects dominating the scene.
4. The land has a pre-eminent right to the preservation of its unique and or rare constituents and features.
5. The land, its waters, rock, and minerals, its plants and animals, and their fruits and harvest have a right never to be rented, sold, extracted, or exported as mere commodities.”

Saguaro Juniper is located along the San Pedro River, which is one of the last large undammed rivers in the Southwest and one of only two major rivers that flow north from Mexico into the United States. The San Pedro provides critical habitat for millions of migrating birds each year and is home to 84 species of mammals, 14 fish species and 41 reptile and amphibian species, according to the Nature Conservancy.

“That’s a major interest among members of SJ is the wildlife and the land,” Orum said. “Another theme is the interest in animals and what animals, particularly our cows, can teach us about the land.” 

Sustainable cattle ranching

“The idea is that we want the cattle to be on the range when they can be a positive aspect of that,” said Nancy Ferguson, a wildlife biologist and founding member of Saguaro Juniper. “Our current understanding is that we’ve got grasses that grow mainly in the summertime and produce seeds, so the idea is not to have the cows there when the grass is growing rapidly and producing seeds because that’s when you can wipe out grasses.”

For that reason, the group doesn’t allow their cattle to graze on the range during the summertime. Instead, they let the cows graze a plot of land with Bermuda grass through the summer months.

They also prevent the cows from grazing in sensitive riparian areas, which tend to be more adversely affected by grazing than other areas, Ferguson said.

They’ve used trend plots – plots of land that they monitor for vegetation over time – in order to see how their cattle operation has changed the land. Orum said that, in general, the land and natural vegetation has improved since they began monitoring in the late 1990s with the help of the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Saguaro Juniper sells beef in quarters or halves of cows. “I couldn’t; sell you a pound of hamburger,” Ferguson said. The animals are brought to a family packinghouse in Wilcox, where they’re slaughtered and trucked in a refrigerated vehicle to Tucson every two weeks.

Orum said that the group currently has three animals that they’re looking to sell in May.

Community

When asked about the connections between the sanctuary movement and Saguaro Juniper, Orum said that Corbett’s philosophy of community permeated both.

“It’s not the acts of individuals but the acts of community that are important. That was very true in the Sanctuary movement,” Orum said. “What that means is that you get a mosaic of interests.”

Saguaro Juniper‘s land is held collectively by the shareholders and all decisions are made collectively.

“You get one person who might be most interested in the cows and another person interested mostly in the land and the creatures on it and so forth,” Orum said. “So that there’s a mosaic of approaches.”

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No longer a novelty, it’s an industry

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Liz O'Connell/Arizona Sonora News Service.

Domestic beer is not enough for Arizonans. The craftier the better.

This is especially true in Tucson.

“Southern Arizona, well particularly Tucson, has more breweries in the city of Tucson than the city of Phoenix,” Rob Fullmer, executive director of Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, said. “Tucsonans are able to walk or bike to a brewery these days.”

Flashback to 1991 when Barrio Brewing Company was created in a location where customers could walk and bike from the University of Arizona campus.

The company started brewing at a restaurant on University Boulevard, now known as Gentle Ben’s. By 2006, Barrio expanded and moved to a location near downtown Tucson.

Now, Barrio Brewing Company is the largest brewery in Southern Arizona, according to Fullmer.

A brewer for Barrio, Luke Edward, said just last year the company has sold over 11,200 barrels, or 22,500 kegs

The company expanded from only selling kegs. Barrio cans three of the beers it makes: Barrio Blonde, Barrio Rojo and Citrazona.

The market for Barrio in Phoenix continues to grow and now the company has expanded to Sierra Vista, Bisbee and Douglas, according to Edward.

Edward has been working with the company for the past four years. And since his time at Barrio, he said he has seen about 15 new breweries open in the Tucson area.

But it isn’t a competition for all the breweries in the area.

“With the other breweries in town, it’s not so much competition but feels more like family and seeing how everyone brews their stuff,” Edward said. “I think we really do support each other nicely… it’s tight knit.”

One way the breweries around town integrate is through beer festivals.

The Arizona Craft Brewers Guild held the third annual Baja Beer Festival on April 7. It brought in over 1,000 people and 23 breweries from the state of Arizona.

These festivals give community members a chance to learn about the different breweries, and it also gives the brewers an opportunity to interact with customers.

“Being in a brewery, we’re always handing out the beer to the distributors so when we get to really interact with customers, I find it really cool,” Edward said about the Baja Beer Festival.

Ten years ago, there were only 31 microbreweries in the state of Arizona. That number has risen to 110, according to the Annual Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.

But the rise of the craft beer industry does not stop in Arizona. It’s growing in every state.

A report released by the Brewer’s Association states that small and independent craft brewers saw a 5 percent rise of volume in beer in 2017. Over 990 new breweries opened in 2017.

There are eight new brewers in planning within the state of Arizona, according to the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild website.

“The beer industry in Arizona is going to continue to adapt,” Fullmer said. “We still have a lot of opportunities for small breweries that want to service their neighborhoods and want to bring people into their taprooms.”

Liz O’Connell and Ciara Encinas are reporters for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact them at eoconnell@email.arizona.edu or ciaraencinas@email.arizona.edu.

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Tombstone merchants corral profits, ideas for tomorrow

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by David Del Grande.

Donnie Miller, no relation to the storefront namesake, enjoys greeting passers-by and local patrons of T. Miller’s Tombstone Mercantile and Hotel. When Miller moved to town, he learned a few greetings in German and French in order to make international visitors feel more at home. (Photo by: David J. Del Grande / Arizona Sonora News Service)

Statistics don’t tell the story of a community.

Reports can’t capture how a town’s aesthetic woos the bond between patron and merchant. Institutional determinations made from afar will always fail to paint the picture of what a city feels like, or how its streets sound under moonlight. 

The mileposts that say Tombstone is facing economic hardships are cropping up, but local merchants know differently.       

For the last seven years, the Old Tombstone Western Theme Park has turned a profit every week, said co-owner Lee McKechnie.

“We’ve had bad days of course, you have to, but we’ve never had a bad week,” said McKechnie. “And every year business has been growing.”

McKechnie’s western-style fantasyland, located at S. Fourth and Toughnut streets, features three daily gunfights on a replicated movie set, a cantina and restaurant, a toy shooting gallery geared for children, a gift shop and mini golf course with historical accounts of Tombstone at every hole. The Helldorado Stage, which is only open for special events, is also on site.

He’s planning to add more attractions by fall.

McKechnie started “The Tombstone Cowboys” acting troupe in 1997. They have been working on and off at the Helldorado Stage throughout the years. At the time, there was only one gunfight performance in town, he explained, and now there’s four.

He took over the property for his theme park in 2011, and he made a permanent home for his troupe. He also built the park’s active movie set where daily gunfights are held.

Lee McKechnie playing “Ringo” at the Old Tombstone Western Theme Park daily gunfight. (Photo by: David J. Del Grande / Arizona Sonora News Service)

McKechnie spent his career as an actor, stunt double and gun-handler and has worked on more than 30 movies, including: “Seven Mummies” (2006), “Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road” (2002) and the video game “The Last Bounty Hunter” (1994). In 1993, he played Val Kilmer’s stunt double in “Tombstone,” the blockbuster movie featuring Hollywood A-listers like Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton and Kilmer.

McKechnie actively promotes the gunfight reenactment at the O.K. Corral Historic Complex, he said, and that should be the first stop for new visitors.

But in order to stand out, McKechnie’s troop offers a “hysterically correct” account of the Old West, which blends history and comedy throughout the routine.

“We know what people want, we play to the audience,” McKechnie said. “And we keep them interested in the history by throwing some comedy and laughter in there.”

When he starts the performance, McKechnie lays the ground rules for the audience. The “good guys” will be wearing a blue sash, and the “bad guys” wear an opposing red sash. And no matter what, the good guy always wins, he explains. If the crowd doesn’t seem lively, he fires off a round in order to rouse the spectators. 

He performs in the gunfights at least four days every week. On his off days, McKechnie works on marketing, promotions and making repairs to the various sets.

He also owns the Tombstone Trolley Tours, which offers 25-minute narrated tours of the city to Boothill Graveyard and back.

Plus McKechnie’s currently selecting new actors for the “Virginia City Outlaws,” a theatre troupe he started 18 years ago that performs in Virginia City, Nevada from May to October. The popularity of this group offsets the cost of running Old Tombstone during the slow season. 

“And I have a really good manager down here who will take care of things in the slow months while I’m gone,” he said.

However, there are many facets that measure the strength of an economy, said Robert Carreira, director and chief economist at Cochise College Center for Economic Research.

Since the town’s economy is largely driven by tourism, tracking how many people visit the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park can indicate its commercial vitality, Carreira said.  

Between 2007 and 2017, annual visits declined almost 10 percent from 51,866 to 46,770, Carreira said via email. Unfortunately, Carreira only had gross domestic product information at the county level, which is the most reliable way to determine how an economy is faring. 

Another good indicator is the unemployment rate, he said.

“And Tombstone’s unemployment rate has long been lower than the county, state and national rates,” Carreira said.

In 2017, Tombstone’s annual unemployment rate was 2.3 percent, compared to 5.4 percent for Cochise County, 4.9 percent for Arizona and 4.4 percent nationally.

Tombstone’s unemployment rate dropped almost 1 percent during the last decade, but that was largely due to a shrinking labor force and not from job growth, Carreira said.

The city’s labor force — which is comprised of people either employed, or actively seeking work — declined by nearly a third during the same timeframe. And Tombstone’s population also dropped about 7 percent, a statistic that paints a picture of economic struggle.

Local retail sales mushroomed more than 40 percent between 2007 and 2017, topping out at $14.5 million last year. But Carreira said the recent opening of the Family Dollar store most likely contributed to the spike.

The movie “Tombstone” certainly sparked the local economy, he said, and another successful Hollywood blockbuster would undoubtedly do the same.

“It seems the city’s efforts recently to recapitalize on the movie — including bringing Val Kilmer out this past summer, along with the upcoming 25th anniversary bringing out celebrities once again — will give a boost to the city’s tourism industry,” said Carreira.

This year, Tombstone made True West Magazine’s “Top 10 True Western Towns,” which is a big seller for the publication, said Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell via email.

“Our goal at True West magazine is to give credit to the western towns who are making an effort to promote themselves … and reward them for their efforts,” Bell said.

Contributing editors at True West are asked to nominate cities that they think are exemplary, Bell said. The initial candidates are culled down to a few dozen, then the final list and the specific order towns are placed is decided over a heated debate.

About a decade ago, the merchants of Tombstone seemed to being working against one another, he said. Recently, there’s been a sea change locally and the folks at True West applaud these efforts.

“Landing Val Kilmer as grand marshal, and this year Dennis Quaid is very cool. And our hats are off to everyone who is pulling together to make the town competitive and vital again,” Bell said, referring to the annual Doc Holli-Days parade commemorating the infamous Tombstone resident’s birthday.

T. Miller’s Tombstone Mercantile and Hotel opened its doors 18 years ago and overall the business is growing, said owner Tina Miller.

“Each year’s been better than the last year — I can’t complain,” Miller said. “Tombstone’s been really good to me and business has been good.”

Miller said the key to financial success in Tombstone is offering more than one product. Although she has changed some of her business practices throughout the years, staying progressive is a must for any merchant.

Her shop is stocked with unusual items ranging among costume jewelry, Arizona-themed puppets including jackrabbits as well as reenactment clothing, both new and used, because some folks want to buy western gear that looks dusty and worn, Miller said.  

When she moved the shop to its current location, she renovated the four hotel rooms on the second floor. After Miller revived what used to be the Silver Nugget Hotel, styling each room with its own unique theme, the only getaway suites that overlook Allen Street are booked year-round.

But Tombstone needs to reinvent itself, Miller said. Older generations were attracted to the city, because they were raised watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. One way businesses could entice millennials to visit, is by creating a presence on social media, she said. A handful of shops, including T. Miller’s, are making a concerted effort towards growing their audience online.

Tombstone will always have the 30-second gunfight, Miller said, so introducing the lost arts of western culture such as silversmithing and horseshoeing may be another way to draw young people into town.

If a business shutters on Allen Street, filling the space is obviously important, Miller explained. But bringing in a unique shop like “Mario’s Bakery Cafe,” which is coming soon to Allen Street, will be a welcomed change. 

“I look forward to seeing new merchants,” Miller said. “It would be nice to encourage other people, with new ideas, to come in — that would upgrade our town.”

David J. Del Grande is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at djdelgrande@email.arizona.edu.

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Bisbee locals grapple with historic preservation

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Jamie Verwys.

A view from Laundry Hill of an area with Old Bisbee homes for sale. Jamie Verwys/Arizona Sonora News

More than two dozen unoccupied, potentially unsafe homes can be found along Old Bisbee’s historic main drag. An unofficial network of community members, contractors and residents are buying up the last of these homes to ensure the town preserves its aesthetic.

They want “funky Bisbee” to remain “funky Bisbee.”

Jon Sky, owner of The Parlor tattoo studio, is leading the charge on what he calls “restoring Bisbee.”

“My passion is concrete…building big decks, structures, additions, taking things that people say can’t be fixed and fixing them,” Sky said. “There’s nothing beyond repair.”

The majority of local residents and city officials believe historic preservation is a top priority. And there are very specific guidelines and processes for anyone hoping to renovate or demolish one of the houses that fall into the historic category.

Under the State Historic Property Tax program, those who purchase a home listed in the National Register of Historic Places individually or as part of a district are eligible for a property tax reduction of 35 to 45 percent.

Currently, there is a handful of abandoned homes, weathered by time and available for a relatively low purchasing price.

According to Sky, there is profit to be made, or a dream home to be built out of these homes, but it requires time and skill.

Sky purchased several homes in the area, including the one he lives in now with his wife and two teenage daughters. He and his friends added a deck in seven days, which almost doubled the house’s size. The renovation was designed to mimic the original house.

“My goal is to snatch up all these [properties] before someone else does and wants to tear them down,” he said.

He hopes to bring back the corner store from his childhood, create low-income housing and build some apartments to rent to visitors. Soon, Sky will be working on several construction projects in Flagstaff to help fund design gigs in Bisbee.

While he does his best to avoid a demolition of a home, the challenges of maintaining old buildings are high. He is often up against termite damage, old wood and the hill the homes are built into. Sometimes a building is beyond renovation.

“If you do have to tear down a structure, you can just take pictures of it and rebuild it how it was,” he said. “If you have to demolish a structure that’s what you do in a historic town; you don’t just tear it down and just build whatever.”

A row of brick buildings in Old Bisbee houses several local businesses. Striping the paint to reveal the historic brick was one of resident Jon Sky’s most recent restoration projects.

Resident Kathleen Dunley said she moved to Bisbee because she missed living in an historic house. Her original goal was to restore her home, which was erected in 1910, but the project was plagued with roadblocks.

“I’m trying to maintain the functionality and look as best I can, but it’s expensive work,” Dunley said. “I now understand more than ever the frustrations of someone thinking they can restore, but not being able to complete it.”

Becky McIntyre owns the Toland Adobe, a popular rental in town that belonged to one of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, the first voluntary cavalry regiment formed during the Spanish-American War. McIntyre moved to Bisbee for the weather and the town’s rich history. She said she placed a bid on her home before even stepping foot in it.

Restoration work had already been done to her home, but she did add modern touches, such as new floors. When residents want to do an exterior renovation to a historic Bisbee home they must get a permit from the city’s Design Review Board, a process McIntyre finds effective.

“If you were going to do some major thing, knock the windows out or a major reconstruction, the city would be involved,” she explained. “But other [improvements], they just expect you to take care of it, which is why you have some pretty cool looking houses in Bisbee.”

McIntyre has no qualms with demolishing sites that have become a hazard, ushering in new homes.

“The properties that have been abandoned are just rats nests, havens for drug addicts and for wild animals, so that really does affect the ambiance of the town,” she said. “I’m on the side of let’s go ahead and take care of that and if we can’t get anyone to restore them to look halfway decent then take them down.”

Ken Budge, a design board member and former city councilman, has been a part of Bisbee’s historical preservation efforts for about 14 years.  He’s watched the city evolve, and said he’s no stranger to the “balancing act” of home preservation. His own home was a restoration project.

“It’s not that we aren’t trying to get things to come up in the 21st century,” Budge said. “But the main thing is we just want the character, the basic style, size and shape of the homes to remain and not get what I call ‘remuddled.’”

Budge said there only about 35 homes that are classified as demolished by neglect, or in a state of disrepair due to abandonment. While these homes may need to be torn down, the city doesn’t have the funds to do it.

“We don’t have the money to actually force much to happen with them,” he said. “We send out letters and say ‘you need to fix this,’ but if they don’t do anything all we can do is basically lean the property and it just sits there.”

While the number of tear down applications is low, Budge explained, it has increased lately, which sparks the community debate. Any time a major renovation plan comes to the board they notify neighbors who are within 300 square feet of the property; residents are encouraged to attend review board meetings and speak on the plans.

One of the recent properties the board considered, which sparked community backlash, is located at 29 E. Laundry Hill.

Bisbee resident Jon Sky stands outside one of his many home renovation projects.

Local neighbors, including Sky, protested a proposal to demolish the existing structure and build a large “octagon-shaped beach house style home.” The review board voted against the plan on March 7.

Richard Armstrong, owner of the contested property on Laundry Hill, said he wanted to build his dream home and enjoy Bisbee.

The house is rather unattractive and haphazard inside,” Armstrong said. “The property is also immediately adjacent to more than a dozen empty home sites on the Western slopes of Art Canyon, where unwanted older homes have been removed, leaving only moldering foundations, retaining walls and pipe.”

Armstrong explained that the house was considered non-contributing, meaning additions to the home have hidden its historic features.

“Because of the inharmonious and bizarre additions that do not contribute to the historical nature of the district, the house is not eligible for the property tax credit,” he said.

As Bisbee’s last rescue homes get bought up, the board will continue to review applications closely to ensure any plans for new constructions meet the historical aesthetic requirements.

Budge said that residents in Bisbee have a responsibility to upkeep the city’s look.

“By owning a house or something in Bisbee, you are owning part of the history and it’s your job to maintain that and help to promote that,” Budge said. “You come in and just want to tear a house down and put in something you might see somewhere else; it’s probably not going to happen.”

Sky said he will continue to soak in the Bisbee views over coffee and slug away on his various projects throughout town.

It’s giving back, and restoring old structures—it’s my passion,” Sky said. “I don’t work for money; I work to do what I love doing.”

Jamie Verwys is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at jverwys@email.arizona.edu. 

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