Gilbert is for the birds — and those who watch them - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Gilbert is for the birds — and those who watch them

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Posted: Monday, April 7, 2008 11:46 pm | Updated: 9:20 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Gilbert has found its own place in the tourism world with a man-made oasis for desert fish and fowl that has transformed an ecological challenge into an economic boon.

And Gilbert officials aren’t resting on their quiet success with the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Instead, the city is looking to broaden the appeal of the established public wetland and a future groundwater recharging site as well, a pair of Tribune stories reported recently.

Tribune writer Chris Markham noted Monday that the Parks and Recreation Advisory is going to revisit the question of whether the lake at the riparian preserve should be “catch-and-release” only for fishing.

Advocates claim this approach would encourage more people to cast a line at the lake if the stocked fish could survive long enough to become big, if temporary, catches.

Meanwhile, Gilbert officials are spending $10,000 to study a different design for the next riparian area that would use smaller ponds. That would free up land for possible construction of an education center catering to the interests of bird watchers.

An April 3 story focused on how bird watching is a growing segment of the tourism economy. Even small outdoor havens can attract a surprising number of bird species, and human fans are happy to seek glimpses of them in urban areas.

Gilbert shouldn’t lose sight of the primary purpose of these riparian preserves — to return treated wastewater underground to boost stored supplies. But so far, the town has been clever, innovative and cost-efficient about merging this task with a public attraction that enriches the community’s quality of life.

We are excited by the enthusiasm from Gilbert officials, especially from Town Councilwoman Linda Abbott, as they consider the next logical step in expanding tourism opportunities at the next riparian area.

We are more skeptical about a “catch and release” mandate. The Town Council rejected the idea in 2004 as an excessive regulation of a traditional pastime. We doubt circumstances now require any change, as the riparian preserve is more popular than ever.

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