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Friday, September 17, 2010

San Pedro House truly a bird watcher's paradise

Volunteer John Broz fills a bird feeder outside of the San Pedro House. The house is part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. (Photo by Michelle Cohen / ASNS)

By Michelle Cohen
Arizona Sonora News Service

Ten years ago, Laura Mackin visited the San Pedro House on Highway 90 east of Sierra Vista.

As she walked through the ranch house nestled in a field of wild flowers and cottonwood trees near the banks of the San Pedro River, she had little idea that she stood on the site of her future employer.

Two years after her visit, Mackin, who used to manage the Bisbee Visitor Center, heard the San Pedro House's manager had retired, and she jumped at the opportunity to apply for the job.

"It's gorgeous," she said. "There's no other place like this in southern Arizona."

Originally the ranch manger of the Boquillas Land and Cattle Co. owned the house, which was built in the 1930s.

In 1988, the Bureau of Land Management assumed the home as part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, an area that houses more than 56,000 acres of public land in Cochise County.

The Friends of the San Pedro River, a volunteer, nonprofit, non-political organization that supports the BLM, restored the home and volunteers run a gift shop and bookstore there.

Of the 115,000 people who visit the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area every year, about 50,000 people make a stop at the San Pedro House, said Jim Mahoney, an outdoor recreation planner at the BLM.

Mackin said that along with the house, the area boasts more than 350 different species of birds, 80 species of mammals and more than 40 species of amphibians and reptiles.
San Pedro House volunteer John Broz said the diverse ecology lures both bird watchers and scientists.

"To see 350 different species of birds in one area is rare for the U.S.," he added.

Broz, an avid bird-watcher and retired lawyer, has volunteered at the house since November. Broz makes the trek from Sierra Vista, where he lives, and often brings Jazzy, his 9-year-old dog.

The house is also environmentally friendly and runs on solar power, Mackin said.

"We're off the grid" and have no utility bills, she added. "It has always been that way."

New Mexico-native Vicki Dern visits the house three or four times a year to sell sun hats.

"I love it here because it's this glorious, magical green space in the middle of the desert," she said. "It's so rich with all of the flowers."

Bob Herrmann, who also lives in Sierra Vista, shoots photography of the area's wildlife, a practice he started about five years ago.

"The San Pedro River is great," he said. "You can see mountain lion, beaver, bobcat, desert tortoise and all kinds of birds. There's all kinds of other stuff in Cochise County, but the river is really unique because it's like an oasis in the desert."

For more information contact Friends of the San Pedro River at (520) 459-2555 or go online at www.sanpedroriver.org/fsprhome.shtml

Another version of this story appeared in The Tombstone Epitaph.

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