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The newly opened Verde Vista Loop in Camp Verde features a steady climb up the White Hills east of town, the latter portion a little too steep and rocky for horses.

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State-run vaccination clinic begins operations at Northern Arizona University
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An indoor mass-vaccination site opened on the Northern Arizona University campus Monday, set to operate seven days a week out of the University Union Fieldhouse.

The new state-run site expands COVID-19 vaccine access in northern Arizona and provides Pfizer vaccine appointments for residents aged 16 and older.

Local high schooler Jackson Lander, 16, was among the first residents to receive a vaccine dose at the clinic Monday.

“I feel really privileged,” Lander said after receiving his first vaccine dose. “I’m really hoping that as one of these first people under 18 to be vaccinated, it will start to set a precedent.”

First-dose appointments for the Pfizer vaccine are available this week through the Arizona Department of Health Services website at, or by calling 1-844-542-8201. The clinic will also offer on-site registration for those without an appointment, operating from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m daily.

If registering a minor for the vaccine, an adult must register before a minor account can be added and an appointment scheduled. All minors must be accompanied by an adult when receiving the vaccine and a consent form must be signed, according to Coconino County Health and Human Services.

According to CCHHS, the site will begin by offering 1,000 doses a day the first week, but it is capable of expanding to more than 4,000 per day. Free parking for vaccine appointments is available in the campus P16 lot just west of the building.

Lander, who is the last in his immediate family to be vaccinated, said he had been eager for vaccination appointments to expand to the 16-and-older age group. Rather than feeling nervous for the appointment, Lander said he felt excited throughout the day.

The state vaccine effort is a partnership between NAU, Gov. Doug Ducey, Arizona Department of Health Services, Coconino County, Northern Arizona Healthcare and the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, according to a release from Coconino County.

Premier Medical Group (PMG) will be the site’s primary operator and Northern Arizona Healthcare will provide additional support for clinical staffing, according to the county release.

Cindy Nelly, PMG Executive Vice President and COVID-19 Response Director, said the partnership between local and state organizations was critical to successfully implementing the clinic.

“NAU is a site that people know and trust and is a community stakeholder. I think people understand that NAU is here and a proven entity. That allows people to come to a place they trust and know they can access,” Dr. Nelly said.

Nelly added that the clinic had already seen plenty of residents under the age of 18 sign up for first-dose appointments.

NAU spokesperson Heidi Toth said the clinic is a great resource for both the local community and the university, which is planning a return to in-person learning for the fall semester.

On Monday afternoon at around 4 p.m., Nelly said the clinic had administered just over 150 total vaccine doses and had plenty of appointments still available throughout the week. That number is expected to grow in the coming days as the site becomes fully operational.

Vaccines are both stored and administered on campus at the University Union Fieldhouse, Nelly said. That location, which has also been used as a testing site, is expected to continue to provide testing to the Flagstaff community separate from the state-run clinic without interference.

With pre-registration, residents can expect the entire vaccination process to take less than 25 minutes, and not much longer than that for those that did not register prior, Nelly said.

NAU senior Taylor White, who was vaccinated at the clinic Monday, said the entire process was “super easy” after signing up for an appointment online. Having access to the vaccine on-campus made the experience more convenient, she said.

Mars helicopter takes historic flight
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin air above the dusty red surface of Mars on Monday, achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet.

The triumph was hailed as a Wright brothers moment. The mini 4-pound copter even carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

It was a brief hop — just 39 seconds and 10 feet — but accomplished all of the major milestones.

“Goosebumps. It looks just the way we had tested," project manager MiMi Aung said as she watched the flight video during a later briefing. “Absolutely beautiful flight. I don’t think I can ever stop watching it over and over again.”

Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California declared success after receiving the data and images via the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly when it touched down in an ancient river delta in February.

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.

Scientists cheered the news from around the world, even from space, and the White House offered its congratulations.

“A whole new way to explore the alien terrain in our solar system is now at our disposal,” Nottingham Trent University astronomer Daniel Brown said from England.

This first test flight — with more to come by Ingenuity, the next as soon as Thursday — holds great promise, Brown noted. Future helicopters could serve as scouts for rovers, and eventually astronauts, in difficult, dangerous places.

Ingenuity has provided a third dimension to planetary exploration and ”freed us from the surface now forever," said JPL director, Michael Watkins.

Ground controllers had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the preprogrammed flight had succeeded 178 million miles away. The first attempt had been delayed a week because of a software error.

When the news finally came, the operations center filled with applause, cheers and laughter. More followed when the first black and white photo from Ingenuity appeared, showing the helicopter's shadow as it hovered above the surface of Mars.

“The shadow of greatness, #MarsHelicopter first flight on another world complete!" NASA astronaut Victor Glover tweeted from the International Space Station.

Next came stunning color video of the copter's clean landing, taken by Perseverance, “the best host little Ingenuity could ever hope for,” Aung said in thanking everyone.

The helicopter hovered for 30 seconds at its intended altitude of 10 feet, and spent 39 seconds airborne, more than three times longer than the first successful flight of the Wright Flyer, which lasted a mere 12 seconds on Dec. 17, 1903.

To accomplish all of this, the helicopter’s twin, counter-rotating rotor blades needed to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute — five times faster than on Earth. With an atmosphere just 1% the density of Earth’s, engineers had to build a helicopter light enough — with blades spinning fast enough — to generate this otherworldly lift. The Martian wind was relatively gentle Monday: between 4 mph and 14 mph.

More than six years in the making, Ingenuity is just 19 inches tall, a spindly four-legged chopper. Its fuselage, containing all the batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. The carbon-fiber, foam-filled rotors are the biggest pieces: Each pair stretches 4 feet tip to tip.

Ingenuity also had to be sturdy enough to withstand the Martian wind, and is topped with a solar panel for recharging the batteries, crucial for surviving the minus-130 degree Fahrenheit Martian nights.

NASA chose a flat, relatively rock-free patch for Ingenuity’s airfield. Following Monday's success, NASA named the area for the Wright brothers.

“While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and ... million miles of space, they now will forever be linked," NASA's science missions chief Thomas Zurbuchen announced.

The little chopper with a giant job attracted attention from the moment it launched with Perseverance last July. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger joined in the fun, rooting for Ingenuity over the weekend. “Get to the chopper!” he shouted in a tweeted video, a line from his 1987 sci-fi film “Predator.”

Up to five increasingly ambitious flights are planned, and they could lead the way to a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as lookouts for human crews. On Earth, the technology could enable helicopters to reach new heights, doing things like more easily navigating the Himalayas.

Ingenuity’s team has until the beginning of May to complete the test flights so that the rover can get on with its main mission: collecting rock samples that could hold evidence of past Martian life, for return to Earth a decade from now.

The team plans to test the helicopter's limits, possibly even wrecking the craft, leaving it to rest in place forever, having sent its data back home.

Until then, Perseverance will keep tabs on Ingenuity. Flight engineers affectionately call them Percy and Ginny.

“Big sister’s watching,” said Malin Space Science Systems’ Elsa Jensen, the rover’s lead camera operator.

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FUSD to continue mask mandate after Gov. Ducey rescinds statewide order
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Arizona Governor Doug Ducey rescinded an order directing K-12 schools in Arizona to require mask-wearing on Monday, citing an increasing number of COVID-19 vaccinations and updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the Flagstaff Unified School District plans to continue mask mandates.

“Nearly 2 million Arizonans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with many teachers and school faculty now fully vaccinated after being some of the first in line for vaccine prioritization,” Gov. Ducey said. “Teachers, families and students have acted responsibly to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect one another, and our school leaders are ready to decide if masks should be required on their campuses.

"We will continue to work with public health professionals and Arizona’s schools as more students return to the classroom and our state moves forward.”

Gov Ducey's announcement allows school districts to decide whether to implement mask-wearing protocols on campus moving forward.

According to Flagstaff Unified School District spokesperson Zachery Fountain, the district will continue following its current mitigation plan. Those mitigation policies were adopted by the FUSD governing board on Aug. 11 and include the requirement that all students, staff members and visitors wear masks at school district facilities.

"The rescinding of the executive order still allows for local governance on this issue, and we will continue to follow policies as currently adopted," Fountain said.

The Arizona Department of Health Services encouraged schools to follow health protocols other than masking, such as washing hands with soap and warm water, using hand sanitizer, cleaning and maintaining health facilities, and staying home when sick.

Kathy Hoffman, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, released a statement on Monday opposing Gov. Ducey's actions. Hoffman encouraged school leaders and board members to make "transparent, evidence-based decisions that build trust in the safety of our schools."

"Today's abrupt removal of the mask mandate in schools is just one example in a long list of decisions that have resulted in Arizona's embarrassing response to a virus that has claimed over 17,000 lives and impacted thousands more," Hoffman said. "Children under 16 are still ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccines and [the CDC] still recommends universal masking in public schools to ensure safe learning environments."

Operational strategies published on the CDC website, last updated March 19, included the following summary of recent changes:

  • Revised physical distancing recommendations to reflect at least 3 feet between students in classrooms and provide clearer guidance when a greater distance (such as 6 feet) is recommended.
  • Clarified that ventilation is a component of strategies to clean and maintain healthy facilities.
  • Removed recommendation for physical barriers.
  • Clarified the role of community transmission levels in decision-making.
  • Added guidance on interventions when clusters occur.

"All schools should implement and layer prevention strategies and should prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing," the CDC website states.

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Coconino County Board of Supervisors denies higher densities for Kachina Village subdivision
  • Updated

In a split vote, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors denied approval for a new planned community subdivision in Kachina Village last week.

The Scottsdale-based developer Arcadia Capital Group had asked the county to rezone about 40 acres of property just north of Tovar Trail and between Interstate 17 to the east and a water treatment facility to the west.

But mainly for reasons of traffic and community character, the project has faced strong opposition from current residents of Kachina Village. And the meeting on Wednesday was no different as several residents spoke to the board, all in opposition to the changed project.

The project was approved by the county's Planning and Zoning Commission in October, but in November, the board delayed hearing the issue as to allow staff to conduct additional traffic studies for the project.

In fact, enough nearby property owners opposed the project that residents required the board to approve the project by supermajority. Those residents were vindicated when the vote failed to win support of even a majority, let alone a supermajority.

Only County Chair Matt Ryan and Vice Chair Lena Fowler voted in support of the project while Supervisors Jeronimo Vasquez, Patrice Horstman and Judy Begay all voted to deny the project.

Had it been approved, the development would have been the first project to follow the county’s new clustered conservation subdivision type. That subdivision type allows developers more density in order to preserve more open space than would be normal in a more traditional subdivision.

The rezone would have allowed the developer to build 173 single family homes and duplexes ranging from 1,350 to 3,000 square feet on lots ranging from 3,200 to 9,474 square feet.

Developers said the increased variety of unit sizes would give them the ability to offer a wider mix of price points throughout the development, bringing larger homes and lots that are more consistent with much of Kachina Village while also providing some workforce housing.

But for many residents, and some members of the board, that plan was very different than Kachina Village as it is currently built, which is primarily made up of parcels that are at minimum 6,000 square feet in size.

With this proposal denied, plans already exist to develop 130 single family homes with 6,000-square-foot minimum lots in the area.

Horstman said she found herself agreeing with the residents that the developer’s planned community was not in line with Kachina Village's character or with the county’s master plan for development of the area.

“I think the plan that is being presented is indeed an excellent plan for a different community,” Horstman said. “[Kachina Village] is a community that is rural in nature; it is a community with lots of land and space around it; it is a forested community. One of the distinguishing features of Kachina Village is that it is in the midst of a forest.”

Horstman added she also had real concerns about the added traffic the extra units would bring.

Vasquez said he was torn on the project simply because of how much public opposition there had been.

“I have a hard time because of the amount of community opposition to this development,” Vasquez said. “Even though I know it's a better design, even though I want to see these improvements done sooner rather than later, even though we need the affordable housing.”

On the other side, Ryan said he believed the development was in line with both the Kachina Village master plan and with the county’s own goals of providing a wider variety of housing types and price ranges.

Ryan said there are times when as a supervisor, broader community values need to take precedence even in the face of community opposition, and he believed this project helped address a dire need of lower cost housing.

“My tendency is usually to go with the community, but I can't chase popularity,” Ryan said. “We want affordable, but we don’t want growth. I advocate for wise growth in appropriate areas using plans that have been created by the communities.”

Other considerations

Developers said the smaller lots also allowed them to preserve more of the land as open space, both for the use of residents and potentially wildlife as there are two springs and some wetland within the property.

Within the current plans for the area, 17% of the property would be set aside as open space. The new plans would have increased that amount significantly, allotting 31% of the property as open space. Those open space areas would have been given to the County Parks and Recreation department to be managed.

The developer had also agreed to pay for several infrastructure improvements if the board approved the development, including a pedestrian and bicycle path along a section of I-17 and Tovar Trail.

Other infrastructure improvements would have been paid for by the developer to mitigate traffic concerns, including a new stoplight and crosswalk at the intersection of Kachina Boulevard and Kachina Trail and new turn lanes on Tovar Trail.

However, residents insisted that those additions would do little to mitigate the traffic added by the project, and some said the improvements could even worsen congestion and make roads less safe to drive, especially in snow.