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Cody Bashore-Perales / Cody Bashore, Arizona Daily Sun 

Northern Arizona head coach Jack Murphy speaks to the Lumberjacks in a timeout during Saturday's season-opener against Jacksonville in Rolle Activity Center.

Organization of the year: Willow Bend to celebrate 40 years

Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, Flagstaff’s only full-time environmental education center, will have much to celebrate as it enters its 40th year of operation after being recognized as the Arizona Daily Sun’s 2018 Organization of the Year.

Willow Bend received overwhelming nominations for the award in response to its community-wide programs, which provide the knowledge and experience needed to transform students, longtime residents and visitors into responsible environmental stewards.

“We’re really excited and honored to have been nominated, and then to have been awarded,” said Moran Henn, Executive Director. “It’s a great kick-start to our 40th year anniversary celebration and it really just shows that the work we do and the service we provide is needed and appreciated in Flagstaff.”

Willow Bend’s 40-year success is largely due to the team that sustains it, a group of hundreds of dedicated, enthusiastic individuals of all ages, backgrounds and professions, Henn said.

“Willow bend is really a team effort,” she said. “Some people have been involved with Willow Bend for 40 years and some just for a couple hours, but all of those people are important and all of them make it possible for us to do what we do with very limited resources.”

This year, Willow Bend reached 18,282 individuals with its hands-on activities, experiments and exhibitions ranging from Picture Canyon field trips for local third graders to summertime geology tours of the downtown area. Staff and volunteers delivered hundreds of instructional programs specifically tailored to suit each one’s needs while also working to maintain the Willow Bend property on East Sawmill Road.

The organization’s origins date back to 1975, when Jim David, a biology teacher at Flagstaff Middle School, wanted to restore a nearby portion of the Rio de Flag to create an outdoor classroom for his students. With the help of Jim Alam, district conservationist for the Soil Conservation Service, the Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCD) and other community partners, the idea was expanded and Willow Bend became the first NRCD-sponsored environmental education program in Arizona. Until 2002, it was called the Resource Center for Environmental Education (RCEE).

Willow Bend’s current facility, whose cornerstone was set in 2001, is a certified sustainable building constructed using the principles of passive solar design: tightness, insulation, southern orientation, heat storage and distribution, and controlled ventilation. These characteristics allow the structure to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter, reducing the need for air conditioners and heaters. The center also features low water native gardens, energy star office equipment and energy-efficient lighting. It also collects rainwater and composts.

“We play a really critical role in the community because no one else does this,” said Michele James, board member.

Leading up to its 2019 anniversary, the team has been reviewing all programs for adjustments and enhancements, Henn said. Looking at 2018 alone, the vast number and diversity of services provided could make the review process a lengthy one.

On the property, creation of a new monarch butterfly way station, stabilization of a formerly hazardous slope and updates to existing gardens were completed. There are currently six gardens available for public enjoyment: the hummingbird, lizard, forest, pond and wetland, wildflower and native edibles and medicinal gardens.

“Willow Bend has enriched the lives of our community and the surrounding area and reinforces the beauty that surrounds us,” Mary McKell, board member, wrote of the gardens in her nomination letter.

School and community program topics this year included zero waste and recycling, habitat monitoring, bald eagle conservation and ecology, water ethics, hiking etiquette and safety, sustainable homes and renewable energy. Willow Bend representatives visited students of all ages to present these messages and their accompanying activities.

Susan Lamb, garden coordinator, thanked the community for being incredibly supportive of Willow Bend’s program expansion; recently, it has been redistributing resources to develop new strengths.

These programs make a substantial difference in local education by encouraging the development of future citizens, wrote Whitney Tapia, Northern Arizona University assistant professor of practice and former Flagstaff Unified School District elementary school teacher.

“With the stifling standardization we have seen in education, Willow Bend has remained a pillar of genuine learning for students and educators,” she said.

To make such learning possible, the team puts in an unparalleled amount of work every day with its signature positivity and enthusiasm for the never-ending opportunities the center receives.

Longtime volunteer Bob Baer said, “It’s very fun to volunteer here. What’s really fun is all the people we meet who love Willow Bend. It’s really a community heart space.”

Sara Day, another volunteer, added that the team is excited to do even more for the community in the coming year.

Staff members like Henn shared similar sentiments about their work.

“I’ve always had a passion for education and especially environmental education and when I saw the job description, I just knew that I had to apply,” she said. “It’s been four years and every day I feel really lucky to come to work and I feel really honored to provide these services to the community.”

The organization’s mission remains as important today as it was decades ago, when it was just an idea for an outdoor classroom.

Holly Taylor, who served on Willow Bend’s board for six years, wrote, “In a time of concern about climate change and its environmental impact, it seems most appropriate to recognize an organization for which the total focus is how to act sustainably and effectively in the face of these threats.”

Willow Bend is currently planning its 40-year celebration. For more information about the center and its programs, visit

Flagstaff Snow Park at Fort Tuthill opens with snowmaking

Snowflakes fluttered to the ground as children and adults alike laughed and screamed as they shot down three of the snowy, open runs at Flagstaff Snow Park Thursday.

But rewind to October into early November, and the mood about the park was much different. At that time Jonathan Allen, president of Flagstaff Snow Park, was asking the Coconino County Board of Supervisors for the potable or drinking water needed to create man-made snow on their runs.

This Wednesday was the first day they had opened to the public since they were able to use their man-made snow using potable water. They had a limited opening after churning up snow from their snowmakers, and Allen hoped that by Saturday they could have a fourth run open.

Allen was busy Thursday stacking tubes and turning away people looking to drop by and pick up a ticket to the park once they hit their capacity. He said that having snowmaking changes their ability to sell tickets.

“It’s nice being able to plan further ahead, because we can look at the snow and say ‘Alright, we know we’re going to be open in three days,’” Allen said. “Before we rarely sold tickets more than a day ahead of time. Right now, we have tickets on sale all the way through Sunday because we’re confident we’ll be able to stay open.”

Allen alleged during the Board of Supervisors meetings that the one million gallons of water they wanted for snowmaking matched with other recreational uses in the area, like Jay Lively Activity Center. The Board of Supervisors eventually agreed to allow potable water for snowmaking, despite public opposition.

While the board agreed that water was a highly valued resource, they were concerned about the trash formed through unsanctioned sledding in the forests along Highway 180.

Allen explained that since they were allowed to use snowmaking they have been working almost nonstop to get the water line and power in the ground and then now to start blowing the snow.

“Right now I’m still in full-on recovery, because [the process has] kicked my butt more thoroughly than anything has in my entire life,” Allen said.

Allen said that they could use 30,000 gallons of water in a night if they blew at full capacity. He estimated that they had used 70 to 80,000 gallons for their business so far.

Park visitors were huddled around the large fire pit as others ordered food from the food trucks surrounding a set of picnic tables. Allen explained that when they’re running at max capacity, they hope to get 1,800 ticket sales for the entire day, but their limited run Wednesday was set at around 1,100 ticket sales for the day.

Visitor Nick Homer drove from Scottsdale looking for snow and settled on Flagstaff Snow Park. They did not reserve a ticket and were able to get in before the park started denying walk-up ticket sales.

“There are 1.6 million people in the desert and you hardly have any snow here for people like me coming up for just a day,” Homer said.

On the prospect of them expanding their business, Homer said “They’d be making a killing.”

Multiple other visitors voiced similar statements saying they would likely return to the park to sled knowing there is consistent snow at the park.

Year in review: A look at local crime and courts in 2018

From the Flagstaff teacher being detained while the courts sort out their alleged sexual abuse charges to uncovering drug, burglary and underage prostitution rings, the Flagstaff Police Department, the Coconino County Sheriff's Office and the Coconino County court system has been busy in 2018. Here are some of the most important crimes and court hearings that happened this year in Flagstaff and Coconino County.


Ted Komada, 37, a Flagstaff elementary school teacher, formerly named STEM teacher of the year in 2016, was arrested on suspicion of repeated sexual abuse in mid-January.

One of the children examined had injuries consistent with rape according to examination by the Flagstaff Medical Safe Child Center, and both victims told officials that Komada would frequently ask the children to perform sexual acts on him.

Komada resigned a few days before he was arrested and is in the process of negotiating with prosecutors for a plea.


The Flagstaff and Prescott Valley Police Departments, and Federal Bureau of Investigations, arrested seven men from Flagstaff in a sting operation aimed at underage prostitution involving minors under the age of 16.

The arrests were conducted on March 9 after the officers fielded well over 100 calls and inquiries from would be suspects as a part of their operation. Eight men were arrested in total.

No minors were involved in the operation.


NAU student Kain Turner, 21, was found in the Rio de Flag near Beaver Street on Dec. 4 after he was reported missing the day before to the Northern Arizona University Police Department.

The man from Cottonwood was found in a flood-control channel near downtown Flagstaff by friends who led the search for his body after his missing person poster was shared on social media. While the cause of his death is still pending a report from the Medical Examiner’s Office, the police said there are no signs of foul play.

A Flagstaff Police report said a woman saw Turner after he was kicked out of a bar seemingly drunk, stumbling through a ditch on Dec. 2. Turner was expected to graduate in 2020.


A semi-truck traveling westbound on the I-40 struck Logan Flake, 22, who purposefully jumped to his death from the Fourth Street overpass, Sept. 19, 2018.

The overpass has a gate on the sides of the bridges to help prevent people from jumping or falling, but Flake climbed around the side of the fence and climbed out to the center of the roadway. Multiple witnesses at the scene tried to convince Flake not to jump from the overpass, but did not succeed.

He landed on the highway before he was struck by a passing semi truck.


A Forest Service officer shot and killed a man who had been walking naked and bloodied after crashing his truck in Oak Creek Canyon. Tyler Miller, 51, had been traveling from his Kansas home to Sedona Wellness Center Soul Adventures according to family members.

Miller’s son told police he was worried his father was suicidal and told police that his father had been depressed and acting strangely while going through marital separation.

“I could hear in her tone she was shaky and was speaking loudly, consistent with an intense situation,” deputy Kyl Walter wrote in his incident report. “Shortly after, I heard across the radio, ‘Shots fired.’”

Miller was unarmed at the time of his death, but a witness reported to a detective’s report that Miller had been throwing rocks at vehicles traveling on 89A after he crashed his truck.


Investigators believe they found the remains of Jackie McClellan Jr., 43, in October who was reported as a missing person in 2007.

Hunters reported finding the remains near Cedar Wash. After the remains found were confirmed as human, Sheriff’s detectives and the Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office responded to the area for further investigation. McClellan was last seen 11 years before walking from the family’s sheep camp during a severe winter storm and had not been seen or heard from since.


In November, the Sheriff’s Office arrested three suspects involved in a vehicle burglary ring that spanned multiple communities in northern Arizona.

The three suspects, Jonathan Hernandez, 18, Kaiden Cox, 18, and Hipolito Zavala Molina, 18, committed burglaries in Flagstaff and Sedona area. The suspects stole several firearms, personal banking credit cards, electronic equipment and two vehicles.

The suspects were all charged with first-degree burglary, theft and fraudulent use of a credit card.


Lillian Hester was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder of her 6-year-old nephew, who weighed 29 pounds at the time of his death in October.

Prosecutor Michael Tunink explained that 29 pounds is the expected weight of a 3- or 4-year-old. The boy, Jason Hester, was found with signs of dehydration, bruises on his body and an arm fracture that did not properly heal.

Jason Conlee, Lenda Hester and Kimmy Wilson, Lillian’s boyfriend, mother and her mother’s boyfriend were also found guilty for their actions in the case. Conlee faced three years of standard probation, Lenda faced four years of probation and Wilson faced one year of unsupervised probation.


An autopsy showed that the university student who was found dead March 21 in a campus housing complex died by suicide. His system showed that Joseph Bock, 21, had marijuana and methamphetamine in his system when he died.

The NAU Police Department originally listed it as an “unattended death,” and investigated the case in conjuncture with Flagstaff police and Arizona Department of Safety.

NAU employees’ holiday traditions help others

Northern Arizona University’s employee organizations gave back to the community this holiday season through service events to collect and donate needed items for the holidays. The Classified Staff Advisory Council (CSAC) held its annual winter clothing drive, while the Service Professionals Advisory Council (SPAC) “adopted” two local families for the holidays, collecting presents for them in time for Christmas.

CSAC and SPAC were formed to represent two of NAU’s major work groups: classified staff and service professionals. In the absence of a union, these organizations act as the voice of their members for events and meetings concerning university employees. The Faculty Senate, representing the third work group, performs similar functions.

This year marked CSAC’s 16th winter clothing drive. The organization partnered with members of the Student Philanthropy Council to set up drop-off boxes throughout campus and encourage students and employees to donate their new or gently used winter gear, including coats, sweaters, gloves, hats, socks, sweatshirts and blankets. This year, CSAC also partnered with Louie’s Cupboard, NAU’s on-campus food pantry, to accept non-perishable food items.

Donations were collected throughout October, resulting in 1,233 pieces of winter gear and 211 food items that were donated to Sharon Manor, Northland Family Help Center, Flagstaff Shelter Service, Sunshine Rescue Mission, Hope Cottage and Louie’s Cupboard. A total of 19 volunteers helped collect, organize and bag donations for pickup.

Judy Manor, CSAC president and assistant director of Campus Shuttle Services at NAU, said the event is always fun for participating employees and students, and is greatly appreciated by the receiving nonprofits, who collected the donations the first week of November in preparation for impending winter temperatures.

“They were so excited,” Manor said of the nonprofits. “I actually got several texts and phone calls afterwards as they were sorting through the stuff, thanking us for the generous donations.”

SPAC also stepped outside its duties as an employee advocacy group to help the Flagstaff community again this year by sponsoring two families in need of holiday presents who were selected by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Prior to collecting donations, SPAC and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul worked together to determine various characteristics of the two families – including ages, clothing and shoe sizes, as well as any specific gift requests.

The group also reached out to CSAC this year, in case they also wanted to contribute, said Kirk Fitch, SPAC chair and director of Clery Compliance for the NAU Police Department.

A total of seven children from ages 2 to 14 years old received bicycles, clothing, toys, school supplies, headphones and sports equipment from more than 20 participants. The families also received gift cards to Walmart, Safeway and Harkins. During its regular December meeting, SPAC members held a “wrapping party” to prepare and deliver the gifts.

In addition to this annual event, SPAC’s community outreach also includes its adopt-a-trail cleanups, which occur once each semester. The SPAC trail is located at the corner of East Jen Drive and East Pine Knoll Drive, a half mile east of the Walkup Skydome.

On campus, Fitch says SPAC helps out other members of the university wherever it can; this year, for example, members helped serve food at the freshman orientation sessions.

Although CSAC and SPAC were designed to advocate for different employee groups, they often work together for the benefit of people outside the NAU community, like the recipients of this year’s donations.

“I’m pleased that both the Service Professionals Advisory Council and the Classified Staff Advisory Council work so closely together for these two projects,” Fitch said. “It’s not all about employee benefits; we’re benefiting both the campus and the community. It’s good to see those projects going on.”