Gila Resources Information Project

El Camino Walk for the Gila


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Gila River, New Mexico's Last Free-flowing River, Photo by Gordee Headlee

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Mary Burton Riseley talks about her upcoming trip along the Camino de Santiago

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Ron Henry explains his desire to help protect the Gila River through his walk along the Camino de Santiago

Mary Burton Riseley & Ron Henry are walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela and will dedicate their walk to protecting the Gila River.


Under the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004 (AWSA), the state of NM is proposing to divert 14,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Gila River, New Mexico’s last free-flowing river and one of the last intact riparian systems in the West. This project would double the amount of water already used from the river and would threaten the survival of endangered native fish, birds and other wildlife. A diversion on the Gila is unnecessary as viable, cost-effective non-diversion alternatives are able to meet the region’s future water needs affordably while maintaining the natural flow of the Gila. For more information on the threat to the Gila, visit

Mary Burton Riseley and Ron Henry will be walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain in support of preserving the Gila. They are seeking sponsors to raise funds for Gila River protection efforts of the Gila Conservation Coalition.

All contributions are tax-deductible.

A podcast of an interview with Ron and Mary can be found at


Mary Burton Riseley has lived within a few feet of the Gila River for the last 15 years. She has developed a deep connection to the river as well as the plants and animals that depend on it for their survival. Mary is a 4th generation New Mexican who has spent most of her life in this state. She is well known in the area as a person who cares deeply about others and her community. She has shown this by 40 years of work for peace and other causes, as well as by donating her land to a land trust.

Mary is concerned that the Gila River is in serious danger from powerful outside forces. Her sense of alarm was so great that Mary decided to do something big to help protect the Gila River. She is going to Spain to make a holy pilgrimage on the Camino Frances of the Camino de Santiago Compostela (or St. James’ Way) a walk of 490 miles, this coming September and October, and is dedicating her walk to the Gila River and the Gila Conservation Coalition, a partnership of Gila Resources Information Project, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity dedicated to protecting the free-flow of the wild Gila River.

The Camino has been used since the 9th century to make pilgrimages to St. James’ shrine in Santiago de Compostela. According to her spiritual beliefs, she will offer those in prayer on behalf of saving the river as well as for protecting the people and animals that depend on it. Mary is asking people to sponsor her pilgrimage by donating to the El Camino Walk for the Gila. Those who donate will be put on a list that she will carry with her and read when she is praying at the stops. Mary hopes that friends and community members who support her walk will be generous in donating to GCC's Gila River protection efforts.


Ron Henry moved to the Silver City area 20 years ago and feels a deep connection to the Gila River and the mountain countryside that it meanders through. Ron and his children have enjoyed the beauty of the Gila River during hikes and picnics over the years. He is a native New Mexican whose grandparents came to NM in a covered wagon. Ron shared that both his art and his spirituality are deeply connected to nature. He has been an artist all his life in addition to working 
at two careers (architecture and social work), and he often produces artworks that link nature and spirituality through nature’s symbols, such as the phoenix or the wolf.

A year ago, Ron walked 200 miles of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain as a spiritual journey and this year he plans to walk the Camino again for the Gila River, honoring his reverence for nature. In September, he hopes to trek 320 miles of the Camino’s paths, plus an additional 60 more miles to get to the Atlantic Ocean.

Ron is dedicating his walk on the Camino de Santiago to saving the Gila River because for him it is the lifeblood for the region’s ecosystems. He is extremely disturbed by proposals for a Gila River diversion project that will rip open the earth for miles to run a huge pipeline and drain water away from our region. Ron worries that the loss of the Gila’s nourishing river water will overwhelm the natural balance here and bring great harm to our delicate ecosystem. He hopes that he can find enough sponsors of his walk to make a major contribution to the Gila Conservation Coalition to help defray their many expenses in promoting solutions that 
conserve and better utilize our water resources instead of a diversion project.

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Organization Information




GRIP is dedicated to promoting community health by protecting our environment and natural resources in southwestern New Mexico.

EIN: 850452944

Reports: Guidestar

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