Celebrate the Gila Topminnow’s Return

In November 2017, the Sonoran Desert native Gila Topminnow was discovered in the flowing stretch of the Santa Cruz River in Tucson (just north of Sweetwater Wetlands) after 70 years away. Its owes its return to improvements to the Pima County wastewater treatment plant, which put cleaner water into the riverbed, creating the preferred habitat for the fish.

I worked with Brian Powell at the Pima County Office of Sustainability and Conservation, and Claire Zugmeyer at the the Sonoran Institute, to conceptualize the topminnow as a messenger about the river. I’ve created new artwork to honor the fish and share it’s story. In June, we’re painting the stencil art on The Loop bicycle path and several urban locations around town.

Please join us to celebrate the topminnow’s return at any or all of the events below. Use #GilaTopminnow to document your experiences with the Gila topminnow (the live fish or the artwork!) on social media. The fish won’t see it, but the people will.

The project was funded by the Center for Performance and Civic Practice’s Catalyst Initiative.

(Top photo by Brian Gratwicke, Wikicommons)


Gila Topminnow Commemorative Cocktail & Bike Decorating Party
Thursday, June 14, 5-8pm
EXO Bar, 403 N 6th Ave., Tucson
All ages welcome | Bar food and drinks available for purchase

Celebrate the return of the fish (thanks to YOUR wastewater) to the Santa Cruz River with a commemorative cocktail, created especially in the fish’s honor by Vadi Erdal and Amy Rude-Smith at EXO. Hang out on EXO’s patio to decorate your bike for the Gila Topminnow Returns Bike Ride along the Santa Cruz River/The Loop on June 16. We’ll toast to the fish at EXO and provide supplies and inspiration.

Gila Topminnow Returns Bike Ride
Saturday, June 16, 8-10am
Speedway Blvd & Santa Cruz River (west side of river on Loop Path)

Does a fish need a bicycle? Well, no. But we’re celebrating the return of the Gila Topminnow to Tucson’s Santa Cruz River—and new artwork honoring it—with a festive bike ride along the Loop Path. Come decked out with your best Topminnow-on-a-bike costume. (Or gussy up your bike ahead of time on June 14, 5-8 pm, at EXO Bar’s patio.) Prizes for the most scintillating, fishiest bikes and riders!

How to get there:
For a 4.7-mile ride, meet at 8 am on the west side of Santa Cruz River and Speedway Blvd. From there, ride will go north on east side of The Loop. For a shorter ride, join us anywhere along the east side of The Loop. Destination: Outfall, beginning of flowing water on east side of The Loop, .2-mile north of Sweetwater Drive. Here is a map.

Gila Topminnows by the Riverside Picnic Dinner Saturday, June 23, 6-9pm

Christopher Columbus Park, Ramada #5
4600 N Silverbell Rd, Tucson, AZ 85745

Celebrate the return of the Gila Topminnow and the flowing Santa Cruz River that created its healthy habitat with a riverside dining experience. Meet new friends, see where the fishes live, and enjoy a few artsy surprises! Don’t worry, the highly treated wastewater in the river is clean, without a strong smell.

This is a DIY event: Bring your own meal (plus blanket, chairs, table) and gather at Ramada #5, northeast side of the lake! Restrooms available.