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10:34 PM Sat, Nov. 17th

Probationers' service work near Prescott clears way for Williamson Valley drivers

Sue Tone/The Daily Courier<br>
Work crew members use weed-eaters to finish clearing Williamson Valley Road easements during an Adult Probation Department fuel mitigation project on Sept. 18.

Sue Tone/The Daily Courier<br> Work crew members use weed-eaters to finish clearing Williamson Valley Road easements during an Adult Probation Department fuel mitigation project on Sept. 18.

Motorists may have noticed the barren rights-of-way along Williamson Valley Road that now allow for a better sight line, especially at upcoming curves in the roadway.

"It expands the field of view, you can spot animals easier, and it just makes the road safer," said Jeff Hunt, work crew surveillance officer for Yavapai County Adult Probation.

Hunt and his crew of probationers have been cutting, chipping and cleaning up the 25-30 foot easements since August as an effort to clear vegetation and decrease fire danger. The fuel mitigation project will extend all the way to Pioneer Parkway with possible completion by spring.

What used to be a labor-intensive job involving 30 trailer loads of debris carted back to Prescott has become a lot easier with the loan of the Yavapai County chipper that travels to each site. The chipped fragments spewed back onto the cleared areas keep the weeds down, which in turn will help with maintenance, said Van Parson, community restitution coordinator.

Adult probationers working off community service requirements provide labor for projects such as clearing roadsides, cleaning parks, and working on state trust lands. In August and September, they completed the clearing of both sides of Williamson Valley Road from Granite Oaks to Buchanan Drive.

Both Hunt and Parson have nothing but good things to say about both the program and the workers.

"Their sweat equity is incredible, as is their attitude. And it was hot in August with 90 degrees and high humidity," Parson said.

He said 148 probationers - men and women - have participated in community work since Aug. 1, averaging about 6 hours per day for more than 800 hours total. If they were paid minimum wage, that would equal about $7,000.

"It didn't cost anybody anything," Parson said. "It's face-paced work with immediately visible results. People appreciate it - drivers will honk and give a thumbs-up."

Tommy Wallace has worked on the crew twice a week since August. He said it feels good to give back to the community and help out. Wallace was weed whacking for several hours on a recent Friday morning before heading to his regular job.

"It makes for some pretty long days," he said. "From what it first looked like to now - it's nice, not overgrown. It's actually beautiful out here now."

Lee Mahoney, however, doesn't care for the work, mostly because the only way he can fit it into his full-time work schedule is to use his day off, "when I could be working extra hours for extra pay." Nonetheless, he does appreciate working alongside Hunt.

"I work with Jeff, he's a real nice guy. He's not yelling at you. He's not like a drill sergeant," Mahoney added.

Crewmembers have gone through training on traffic flagging, and using chain saws, the chipper and weed-eaters. They cut down anything up to eight inches in diameter, and will trim bottom limbs of trees.

Joining the work crew is voluntary for probationers who are not in custody. Some prefer working outdoors to working in non-profit thrift stores, for example.

"They are not forced to be here. They have the ability to say no. I've got some people, this is all they want to do," Parson said. "If you're a go-getter, you may not want to sit in a thrift store for seven or eight hours."

He called the program an excellent experience for the probationers, and praised the crew leaders.

"They lead from the front, not push from behind. They set the pace," he said.

Any non-profit with a need for free labor can contact the Adult Probation Department at 928-771-3332.

Follow Sue Tone on Twitter@ToneNotes. Reach her at 928-445-3333 x2043 or 928-642-7867.