El Rio Recreation Area "a must-visit recreation destination"

Pima County recently covered a story about all of the exciting endeavors underway at the “El Rio Recreation Area,” a 300-acre area that encompasses several destinations, including WDG Project El Rio Preserve. The El Rio Preserve trailhead, featuring a pedestrian plaza and observation deck, is currently under construction, but the County-owned Los Morteros Conservation Area is complete and open to visitors! This 120-acre archaeological conservation area was a project of Pima County Regional Flood Control District, and now offers visitors a series of pedestrian pathways and interpretive signage to learn about the region’s rich history.

Construction site at El Rio Preserve. Pictured is the pedestrian plaza which will eventually include seating and interpretive signage.

The exciting piece of news here is that El Rio Preserve and Los Morteros are across the street from each other! The Town of Marana recognized the importance of that connection, and recently installed a crosswalk connecting the two sites across Coachline Boulevard. The Loop Trail, along with future plans for a disc-golf course, will truly make this a “must-visit recreation destination.”

Stay tuned for more updates on the El Rio Preserve trailhead project, which is scheduled for completion in fall of 2019. More updates on the El Rio Preserve can be found on the Town of Marana’s El Rio Preserve website, and the Friends of El Rio Preserve Facebook Page. In the meantime, take a visit!

The Loop Trail passes right along El Rio Preserve.

Entry to Los Morteros

Interpretation at Los Morteros

Iskashitaa Grape Harvest

Just outside our office at Tucson Boulevard and 6th Street, we have several grape vines that create a nice shady entryway into our studio. The best part, however, is that they are very productive! Every year we are lucky to have the Iskashitaa Refugee Network come harvest these tasty grapes. They were able to take away five full crates of grapes this year, and some grape leaves as well! Yum.

The Iskashitaa Team after their successful harvest

WDG loves the opportunity to be involve with the community and learn what others are doing to make our city a better place to live. We look forward to seeing this group again next year!

WDG & the Urban Land Institute

We are excited to announce that the Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently featured a story about WDG project Meander Bend Park. We were thrilled to have a national organization interested in our work and how Pima County is approaching issues of climate resiliency. Meander Bend Park is located off the Santa Cruz River and proposes a water harvesting park with earthworks created from sediment dredged from the River. A triple-bottom-line cost-benefit analysis with Autocase revealed an estimated $9.8 million in net present value over 50 years. High five for green infrastructure!

Read the full ULI story here.

The proposed site of Meander Bend Park

The Meander Bend Park story resulted in an invitation from ULI to attend their “Developing Equitable Parks and Open Space Workshop” in Nashville, Tennessee on April 15-16. WDG Designer Alex Stoicof attended the workshop with a small group of stakeholders from around the country to discuss parks and equity.

Some of the key themes of the workshop were:

  • The importance of public and private partnerships and the need to engage the business and real estate community in the pursuit of high quality parks

  • The importance of Operations and Maintenance, and the need to include Maintenance during design reviews

  • The complexity of a definition of a “high quality park” - from user experience and community connections, to sustainability and long-term park “life cycles”

  • The value of data in terms of measuring trends and creating a framework for accountability

As designers, it is easy to get entranced in design and leave conversations of equity to decision-makers. This workshop was eye-opening to the need for landscape architects to be more involved with larger conversations, as design decisions can have an enormous impact on how equity is actually reflected in the creation of a park.

The Workshop included two tours of Azafran Park and Cumberland Park. Pictures from the Workshop and park tours are below. Thank you to ULI for the opportunity to be involved with this important discussion!

WDG at Cyclovia!

There’s a special event that happens every year in Tucson (and around the world!) that brings thousands of people to the streets – Cyclovia! Here in Tucson, Cyclovia is a program of Living Streets Alliance, but this concept has its origins in Bogota, Colombia, where the first “open streets” event happened, and still happens, every week. Cyclovia events close down sections of roadways to cars and makes them available for biking, walking, and community engagement.

WDG decided to participate in the Spring 2019 Cyclovia and we had a GREAT experience. We got to be a part of a larger effort of people who support multi-modal transit. We got to show the community that landscape architects have an important role in roadway projects. We got to watch over 44,000 participants enjoy open streets on a beautiful Sunday.

Photo Credit: Kathleen Dreier

Because a large breadth of our work at WDG is related to transportation, we decided to do a pop-up traffic circle installation. Our goal was to show people how an intersection could be transformed with a traffic circle to become safer, encourage slower driving, create water harvesting opportunities, and beautify the neighborhood with vegetation. We took the meaning of “traffic calming” one step further and made our demonstration a traffic “calming” circle, complete with yoga, a zen garden, incense, therapy plants, and music.

We were completely overwhelmed by the positive response we received – people loved the idea of a traffic circle in their neighborhood and appreciated being able to visualize one temporarily. We felt very encouraged by all the supportive comments for traffic calming, and the success of a pop-up installation project.  With a bit of effort, it’s possible to demonstrate an idea and generate buy-in.

Some of our highlights:

  • Plant donations from three nurseries (huge thank you to Pima County Native Plant Nursery, Mountain States Wholesale Nursery, and Civano Nursery)

  • 50 native plant giveaways (Mammillaria) (thank you Pima County Native Plant Nursery)

  • Opportunity to explain our excitement for traffic calming to Gabrielle Giffords

  • Very creative cactus yoga poses – including a group of acroyogis!

  • People momentarily turning into plants at the Dress Up Like a Plant station

  • Chalk and zen garden designs from many creative kiddos

  • Shoutouts from TDOT

Scroll below for more great pictures from Cyclovia!

Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity

Laura, Chelsea, Andre, Nate and Natalie had a great time volunteering with Habitat for Humanity this past weekend! It was the 18th Annual Women Build week (a national event), which was in conjunction with International Women’s Day. It was great to see so many women (and men!) coming together for a great effort.

The site we worked on was part of a new 9-home community in the Amphi Neighborhood in Tucson. We joined the framing crew and framed up a new wall between a garage and house. Skills included: carrying material, nailing, high-fiving, helping out, and meeting new people. Combined with our “drywall-ing” skills from last year, we’re almost ready to build an entire house! It was great to see how much work can be achieved when the community comes together for a collective cause.


Bottom Line: Green Infrastructure is Worth It

WDG was fortunate to work on two pilot projects this past summer with Pima County and Autocase. Autocase is a company that develops software which analyzes the triple bottom line cost benefit for projects. The software is especially useful for green infrastructure (GI) projects, where analyzing the long-term cost/benefits of GI has been historically difficult.

The two projects were Meander Bend Park (a park adjacent to the Santa Cruz River) and the Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center (a building and parking lot with few outdoor amenities). WDG designed a concept for each project which was then analyzed with Autocase. Thanks to Autocase for featuring this work on their website!

The results were quite impressive. Meander Bend Park is projected to have environmental and social benefits that are 6 times the costs of capital expenses and operation and maintenance. The concept for the Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center forecasts a triple bottom line net present value of $1.13 million over a 50-year period.

Above: Before and After of Meander Bend Park. While this design is conceptual, the analysis revealed that GI has significant benefits to the community. Why not capitalize on unused space?

Pictured above is underused space at the Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center. Below is the conceptual design that would create comfortable outdoor spaces for building occupants, provide beneficial uses for stormwater from building scuppers, and contribute to healthy habitat.

Ribbon Cutting - Grant Road Phase 2

Come celebrate the completion of Grant Road Phase 2 on Tuesday, October 30th at 9:30 am! Wheat Design Group was the landscape architect on this project and helped to beautify the corridor with native plant material, shade trees, green infrastructure/rainwater harvesting, and pedestrian amenities. We look forward to celebrating on Tuesday and watching this landscape enhance our community in the coming years.

WDG Project 'Broadway East' On Schedule

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) recently announced that one of WDG’s roadway projects, Broadway East, is on schedule for construction. This is a section of Broadway Boulevard from Camino Seco to Houghton Road, and is part of the RTA’s 20-year plan. The project was scheduled for construction during FY 2017-2021. This is an important stretch of the roadway for the east side, so it’s great to hear that the City of Tucson will be able to benefit soon.

WDG worked on the landscape, irrigation, and erosion control design for Broadway East. The project will widen Broadway to four lanes and also incorporate improvements to drainage and new features such as street lighting, landscaped medians, bike lanes and sidewalks.

WDG created boards for an Open House that helped the community visualize the roadway design. Material palettes for plant and groundcover help to understand the finer details of the project, and also help our team picture how the materials will look as a whole.

Another component of our work on Broadway East was coordinating with the public artist Niki Glen who does many local Tucson projects. We always love this part of the creative process and seeing what the artist conceptualizes.

Above is Niki’s watercolor rendering of her idea for the art on Broadway East, and some pictures of the work in progress!

Proposition 407: Parks + Connections

At Wheat Design Group we promote multi-modal transport, healthy lifestyles, and community engagement. In keeping with these values, we could not be more excited about the City of Tucson’s Proposition 407, also known as the Parks + Connections Bond, appearing on the November 6th ballot. The bond is to include $225 million in General Obligation bonds to fund parks and connections improvements throughout the City of Tucson. The program would be implemented in three phases beginning in 2020, and ending in 2038.

We have proudly partnered with the City of Tucson to envision a variety of pedestrian and bicycle improvements throughout Tucson.



Here is a snapshot along the proposed El Paso Southwest Greenway, a Bike Boulevard connecting the University from Main Avenue to Kino Sports Complex. The project would be 6 miles long, connecting 26 parks, 10 schools, 2 libraries, downtown, and the Loop at the Kino Sports Complex.



This shared-use path is proposed to connect Kolb Road to Irvington road. Completion of this path would close the gap between the Aviation Bikeway, the Loop at Harrison Road, and the Houghton Road Shared-Use Path.



Walkability improvements along a 1.5 mile stretch of Roger Road from Oracle to Romero Road, would bring safety and connectivity to pedestrians at 2 schools, transit stops, restaurants, and stores.



The proposal for a bicycle boulevard along Greenway Drive, from Drexel Road to Cherry Avenue, would provide safe passage between 3 parks and 2 schools, with enhanced bicycle crossings at both Irvington Road and Campbell Avenue.



A protected bike lane is proposed along 6th Avenue for a length of .65 miles, connecting 2 parks and 5 schools between Speedway Boulevard and 7th Street.

Greenway Drive.gif


Check out the City of Tucson's Interactive Story Map for Prop 407: https://arcg.is/1iaXCD

For more information about Prop 407 visit: https://www.tucsonaz.gov/parksbond.

What have we been up to?

We like to stay busy at WDG. Whether it's working on design, connecting with the community, or learning about new technology, we are constantly expanding our minds and desire to do meaningful work. This week was especially dynamic for us as we engaged with the community in several different capacities. 

POLLINATORS! We attended Tucson Water's Pollinator Party at Sweetwater Wetlands to commemorate National Pollinator Week. There was a dedication for the new pollinator garden, multiple speakers including representatives from the Mayor's office, and donated plants from Pima County's Native Plant Nursery and Civano. Pollinators are critical creatures that support wildlife and plant life, so we were excited to join in on the celebration.

Lots of Red-Winged Blackbirds joined the party and there was even a Cormorant flyby!

Lots of Red-Winged Blackbirds joined the party and there was even a Cormorant flyby!

No Pollinator Party is complete without Pollinator Cookies! Yum.

No Pollinator Party is complete without Pollinator Cookies! Yum.

COMPLETE STREETS! Because of our heavy involvement with transportation work, we are strong advocates for the complete streets movement. We participated in Living Streets Alliance's Complete Streets Stakeholder Dialogue to help develop a Complete Streets policy for Tucson. During the dialogue we were able to connect with like-minded colleagues, share stories about being a cyclist, pedestrian and driver, and contribute to a greater vision for Tucson as a future leader in complete streets. 

Our staff member Nate coming up with brilliant ideas. Photo Credit: Living Streets Alliance

Our staff member Nate coming up with brilliant ideas. Photo Credit: Living Streets Alliance

A collaborative process indeed. Photo Credit: Living Streets Alliance

A collaborative process indeed. Photo Credit: Living Streets Alliance

AUTOCASE! In collaboration with Pima County Regional Flood Control, WDG was able to participate in two green infrastructure pilot projects which were analyzed with Autocase. Autocase is a web-based tool that determines the triple bottom line cost benefit for green infrastructure. This includes financial, social, and environmental impacts for future time frames. The tool is a valuable method to inform decision-makers on the positive value of green infrastructure - our two pilot projects revealed significant value added to the community for a 50-year time frame. We were able to meet Simon Fowell from the Autocase team this week during his stop in Tucson!

Screenshots from the web interface of Autocase, showing the final analysis report. Photo Credit: Autocase.

Screenshots from the web interface of Autocase, showing the final analysis report. Photo Credit: Autocase.


We're definitely feeling that summer desert heat here at WDG! The summer season is ramping up and now is a good time to take preventative measures to help your landscapes survive the intense heat. Good news is that the National Weather Service Tucson office and the Climate Prediction Center project that the upcoming monsoon season will be wetter than average, and we're only a few weeks away!

Here are some quick summer survival tips:


1. Rearrange

Rearrange plants and structures that can provide shade. Aside from the increase in heat intensity, the winter sun angle is quite different from the summer sun angle. Some plants, especially succulents, are easily burned by the summer sun. Take a good look at sun exposure in your landscape throughout the day and move pots to areas where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade. If you can't move plants, consider shade cloth or a shade structure. (photo credit: Lowe's)


2. Reset

Reset your watering schedules. Yes we want to conserve as much as we can, but your plants will need a little extra help these next few weeks. If you have irrigation, take a moment to reevaluate your controller settings - the frequency of watering during the winter months may need to be increased. Don't forget about trees too! If you're watering pots, be careful with standing water in saucers, which can breed mosquitoes. Typically plants consume water about 10 minutes after watering, so dump out excess water after that time period (and definitely keep an eye on this during monsoons). Water during cooler times of the day (morning and after sun down) to avoid higher evaporation rates. Here are some tips from the City of TucsonAZ Department of Water Resources and UA's Cooperative Extension. (photo credit: Power of Plants)


3. Redesign

Redesign. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. How can you decrease your summer watering with better rainwater harvesting designs, especially during monsoons? How can you better group plants with similar watering needs? Are you planting the right types of plants for your microclimates? Do you have enough variety? You can make your summer landscape jobs easier on yourself if you design smartly and think about each plant's overall contribution to the "system." (photo credit: Xtremehorticulture of the Desert)

Stay Cool!

Habitat for Humanity Women Build Week 2018

A few of our staff from WDG recently participated in Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build Week 2018. It was a blast! Women Build Week is a national event that happens every year and encourages women to come together to help build affordable homes for local families.



Not only did we get to learn some new skills, but more importantly we were able to help out a family in need of a home. It was great to actually meet the family who will eventually own the house we worked on. We spent the morning installing drywall in of the daughters' bedrooms. It was a special moment when she walked in and was thrilled to see the progress!

Credit: Habitat for Humanity

Credit: Habitat for Humanity

Learning construction skills!

Learning construction skills!

Giving back to our community is something we really value at WDG. It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning with like-minded individuals helping to make Tucson a better place to live. It was also a fun way to bond with each other as a team. We look forward to volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations in the near future! More pictures from Tucson's Women Build week can be found here.


ASLA Nursery Tour: A Plant-astic Time Beyond Be-Leaf

What do you get when you combine 30 Landscape Architects, a party bus, 5 nurseries, 1 compost facility, plant trivia, and awesome prizes? A really awesome nursery tour of course!

And what a blast it was! ASLA Southern Section recently went on a tour of nurseries in the Tucson metro region, and it was quite a success. WDG helped organize and sponsor the event. Over 30 local professionals joined in on the fun, and we stopped at 5 nurseries and 1 composting facility. Our very own Nate Ritchie and his colleague even put together plant trivia for the bus ride, so we all left with some unique new knowledge of plants. Our tour included: Desert Trees, Tank's Green Stuff, Green Things, Mesquite Valley Growers, Desert Survivors, and the Pima County Native Plant Nursery.

All aboard! Here's the group at the start of the day on the way to our first stop at Desert Trees.

Nursery managers and propagators were all very excited to share their knowledge on plant growing processes behind the scenes. One common theme: patience is key.

Nursery managers and propagators were all very excited to share their knowledge on plant growing processes behind the scenes. One common theme: patience is key.

Check out the photos above for some shots of the nurseries we visited and the awesome prizes that people won (yum compost) from plant trivia.

Thank you to all of those who helped make this nursery tour happen, including the organizing committee and all of the sponsors. We look forward to another one!

WDG Designer Nate Ritchie wins EPA 2017 Campus RainWorks Challenge with student group!

Wheat Design Group is happy to announce that our designer, Nate Ritchie, and a group of his fellow landscape architecture students (Fei Yu, Yuheng Zhang, and Dan Zedick) won Honorable Mention in the 2017 EPA Campus RainWorks Challenge, Master Plan Category! There were 87 projects submitted for this award. Well done!

The team also won an AZASLA student collaborative Honor Award for the project this year. 

Check out more about Nate's team and their project, A River Runs Through It, at the links below.

Congrats Nate!





February Plants of the Month - Wildflowers!

The rain finally came. After a very warm and dry winter, we finally have some significant rainfall and moisture. And along with spring rain comes wildflowers!


Wildflowers provide a pop of color to your yard while also providing nectar for pollinators. Most wildflowers will do well with only rainfall, but for best performance they should be watered during extended droughts, like the one we had this winter.

Wildflowers are very easy to add to your own yard. There are some nurseries that sell small wildflower plants, but the best way to create a wildflower garden is to start from seed. Seeds need to be planted a few months in advance. While it's a little too late to plant spring wildflower seeds, now is a great time to prepare your yard for monsoon wildflowers. Wildflowers generally prefer full sun. Most will die off or drop leaves during the hottest part of the year. Fortunately most of these will reseed and return to your yard anually.

Here are four quintessential Sonoran Desert Wildflowers:

Parry's Penstemon

Parry's Penstemon

Desert Marigold

Desert Marigold

Mexican Gold Poppy

Mexican Gold Poppy

Desert Globe Mallow

Desert Globe Mallow

Native Seed Search is a great place to purchase these and many more wildflowers. We recommend buying a variety pack of seeds to get a variety of flowers.

Brittlebush is another great wildflower

Brittlebush is another great wildflower

Early Spring Planting at the Wheat Design Group Office

With temperatures in the mid 80's, it certainly doesn't feel like winter anymore. We have decided to do a spring cleaning of the planters outside our office. Thanks to a donation from Jean at Mountain States Wholesale Nursery, you can now see some beautiful new plants as you enter our office.

Dwarf Elephant Food

Old Mexico Prickly Pear

We have added:

Hesperaloe nocturna - Night-blooming Hesperaloe

Opuntia gomei 'Old Mexico' - Old Mexico Prickly Pear

Portulacaria afra minima - Dwarf Elephant Food

Acalypha monostachya Raspberry Fuzzies - Rasberry Fuzzies

The pots were looking pretty sad before...

The midway point. We replaced all of the soil.


Our planters are in a north facing exposure, which can be tricky for plants. These will get plenty of shade so stay tuned for a future post that will evaluate how they are doing in their shady homes.