The past is a significant part of what defines who we are on a personal level, as well as the world around us. It is both a mission and a joy for me to study and share a look back at the colorful history of the greater Vail area through the articles I write. Like so much of Arizona, Vail has a rich past with many stories worth telling. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that the choices and actions we make today will become a part of the history of the greater Vail area.
Each of us is making history every day. The Corona de Tucson, Rita Ranch, and Vail communities are full of individuals making significant impacts large and small, seen—but most often unseen—every day. Sometimes a small action brings a smile, instills confidence, or just brightens someone’s day. Sometimes a hobby or skill brings like-minded people together in ways that not only serve a real need, but that become a catalyst for change. I would like to tell you about one such Vail resident who I have come to know over more than two decades: Royce Davenport.
With Vail resident Royce Davenport at the helm, the Southern Arizona Paddlers Club (SAPC) came together at Patagonia Lake Park early on the morning of October 16th, to celebrate their 25th year of bi-annual service, cleaning trash and other debris from the lake’s waters. When asked what drew him to Patagonia Lake—andLake, and why he and the SAPC members committed their stewardship to this nature recreational spot, —he lamented that, while he fell in love with all the attributes of his chosen home here in Southern Arizona, there was one thing he greatly missed from the Midwest. He grew up in a region where lakes, streams, and swimming holes were plentiful:, southern Arizona was somewhat lacking in that resource. He was very happy to discover Lake Patagonia, whose waters offered that missing key element; —a place to enjoy kayaking and nature in a setting he loved. He was saddened by the fact that this beautiful spot, located close to, and enjoyed by, residents from large the metropolitan cities of Tucson, and Nogales, —as well as many smaller communities like Vail, —seemed in need of a helping hand, or better yet, hands.
He observed that there is signage along our highways that note various service organizations engaged in the removal of trash, debris, and items that injure and kill wildlife. Roadways are not the only places that need that special attention. In short order Royce put forth the idea of a lake clean up to his fellow members of The Southern Arizona Paddlers Club. This active group of human-powered boating enthusiasts shared his appreciation of Patagonia Lake and this long running service to the Lake began. The first clean-ups produced a mountain of trash and debris each year including old tires. Over the years, the Club’s work did not go unnoticed by the personnel at this Arizona State Park, and by those that enjoyed the Lake’s recreational opportunities. By year 25, the trash collected by the 50 SAPC members who diligently and methodically cleaned the Lake on October 16th filled only one bag. What a success to be proud of!
The Club members, led by Royce, began a simple clean-up project 25 years ago that became a catalyst for change. Their efforts demonstrate a caring stewardship of this natural and recreational resource. Visitors to Patagonia Lake State Park began being more diligent about picking up trash and leaving things cleaner than they found them. Arizona State Park leadership invested in planning and resources that have resulted in a transformation of the Park over the past 25 years. On the Silver Anniversary of the SAPC Lake Patagonia Clean-Up, I observed southern Arizona residents of all ages enjoying nature together at a beautiful, beloved Park. This is in no small part a result of the stewardship investment of the SAPC and the commitment of Royce and his wife Jane to keeping the twice annual clean-up not only important stewardship days, but also a day of friendship, fellowship and shared purpose. The clean-up culminated in a potluck, conversation, laughter, shared memories, fun raffle prizes, a group photo, and looking forward to doing it all again in six months! I overheard many participants— , many of whom were at the first clean-up 25 years ago—, share stories of the mountain of trash and strange debris they collected that first year, and how that first year they could not have imagined they would still be gathering 25 years later. But, they are so glad that they are!
Royce and his wife Jane give generously of their time to a number of projects. Jane can be found at Mission Garden, Pima County Master Naturalist program, Tucson’s chapter of the Threshold Choir, and being an End-of Life Doula. Royce has been a presenter on numerous occasions for Old Vail Middle School’s Career Day programs. Both share their time and talents through Vail Preservation Society (VPS) on a variety of projects. Royce’s talents and caring for his community brought to life the Welcome to Vail giant V for Vail railroad spike public art installation on Colossal Cave Road, a VPS project. He listened at countless community meetings and translated the vision of residents into a beautiful work of art created by Vail youth aged 9-18.
Both Jane and Royce care deeply about nature. This is evident at their home which doubles as Royce’s art studio called Rancho Milagritos (Little Miracle Ranch). He produces a wide variety of art pieces. As this issue of “The Voice” goes to press, he is within the final 100 handmade crosses out of his goal of 1000! He refers to them as Milagritos. Royce’s crosses, created right here in Vail, are in the personal spaces of homes throughout the USA, Mexico, Europe, and South America.
Royce and Jane would be quick to point to that they ascribe to the idea that we are all making history every day, that we all have a page of history to write in our brief time here. That everyone’s story and contributions are important, one doesn’t have to be famous or wealthy. In their words, “One should rise to the best of their personal ability, ensuring that the ink that dries upon the page of their life’s story was well spent.” Personally, I’m so grateful that Royce and Jane choose to include their community and Vail Preservation Society in the history they are writing every day. They have committed themselves to leaving a well written page of history. That page reflects upon not only them personally, but upon the community they call home.
By J.J. Lamb, 2022,
Vail Preservation Society