Homer Hansen

Homer Hansen, with Willcox Nature Association, updates the City Council on progress being made for the 2020 Wings Over Willcox birding festival.

WILLCOX — The city of Willcox is ready for the return of Wings over Willcox, and the City Council is throwing its support by the new organizing committee.

During last Thursday’s regular meeting, the Willcox City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Willcox Nature Association in support of the Wings Over Willcox birding festival.

“When you were running it, let’s say 20 years ago, I don’t know, it was just fantastic,” Willcox Mayor Mike Laws told Homer Hansen with Willcox Nature Association. “I’m sorry it happened the way it happened when it was taken away, but we’ve remedied that; and so, I wish you all the luck in the world.”

In 2014, control of Wings Over Willcox was assumed by the Willcox Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, with many longtime volunteers and organizers no longer involved. In 2015, then-Chamber Director Alan Baker told the council the event had experienced 10 years of losses.

Earlier this year, the City Council opted to not renew the city’s contract with the chamber to provide tourism services — recapturing the transit occupancy tax (hotel bed tax) the city had allocated to the chamber.

Without that revenue, the chamber lost its director and has become an all-volunteer organization focusing on support of locally owned businesses.

Meanwhile, the Wings Over Willcox volunteers who had left in 2014 returned to form the nonprofit Willcox Nature Association and assume operation of Wings Over Willcox.

“We’ve had three very productive meetings, and our average attendance is about 15 members of the community, as well as people coming from Tucson and various (federal and state) agencies,” Hansen told the council. We have very enthusiastic support from past partners and what we’re bringing on board.”

On Sunday, Willcox Nature Association announced that registration for the 2020 Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival is now open. Forays will include half-day tours such as Sparrow Seek and Hawk Stalk, as well as sunrise and sunset crane viewing. Botany, history, geology and wine-tasting tours are also offered. Full-day trips will venture to the Chiricahua Mountains and Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.

The Nature Expo will include educational displays, merchandise and activities for children and adults. Arizona Game and Fish wildlife specialists will be on hand with live animals for close-up views. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel will have information about local recreation and wildlife-viewing opportunities.

The Saturday of the festival will feature the return of the evening banquet and silent auction at the Elks Lodge, with keynote speaker Rick Taylor. His talk, “Six Seasons: A Birding Year in the Land of the Apache,” will highlight the Chiricahua Apaches’ six seasons based on transitions in nature and how those relate to birds.

Registration for tours is at www.wingsoverwillcox.com. Call 520-384-2874 for more information.

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