American Birding Podcast



Today’s the Day: Excerpts from Your Ash Canyon Letters

Today's the day! It's the day that Mary Jo Ballator has her hearing with the Cochise County, AZ, Board of Supervisors regarding the fate of public access to the grounds of her Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast. I asked ABA blog readers to send e-mails in support of birder access in a post here two weeks ago.

Well, did you ever. I was copied in on over 70 e-mails. From what Mary Jo tells me, she received a total of over 350 (her cause was promoted across multiple e-mail lists and blogs). I don't know what effect this outpouring of concern will have on the eventual decision. There's always the chance, as a few have suggested, that it all could backfire. It's true that almost all people have an aversion to being, "told what to do," by, "outsiders."

I don't think either of these charges could fairly be leveled at the body of correspondence that follows. First, everyone maintained a cooperative, positive tone, though a few did hint that closure of this property might negatively influence the chances of them returning to the region. There was no scolding that I could detect.

And the letters make it clear that we aren't really outsiders. Many of the writers live in Arizona full or part time, worked or went to school there, are planning to live there, or have made multiple visits. Their words drip with a familiarity, a respect, and, yes, a love for Ash Canyon and for southeast Arizona.

In any event, even if some take umbrage at our show of support, I'm much happier about birders speaking up than remaining silent. In reading over some of these letters, I'm sure you'll agree. Wherever you are today, keep a good thought for Mary Jo, her neighbors, and the civic leaders of Cochise County. We'll let you know how things turn out as soon as we know.

On to the letters! Beginning now, for ease of identifying who is speaking, I'll put my own comments in italics:

I'll start with a note from Ann Oliver, who hits many of the themes that came up time and again among those who wrote in and does so in an especially engaging, personal way:


Hello from not-so-sunny Ohio, where birders like my husband and I dream about a return visit to the Sierra Vista area! Maybe we'll be lucky enough to retire there someday! Heck, if there are two jobs available for nurse anesthetists, we'll move there now!

I've been fortunate to vacation in Cochise County several times in the last 15 years. Each visit has revolved around birding. I have patronized the businesses in your community including dollars spent on lodging, food, gas, gifts, and even automotive maintenance.        

Please give our regards and say hello to the folks at the Mitsubishi dealership, the Chinese restaurant (name???) and Subway in Sierra Vista, folks at the San Pedro House Visitor's Center, folks in Bisbee and Warren, the "pie" restaurant in Elfrida (A Family Restaurant), the staff at the Chiricahua National Monument, operators of the Portal Peak Lodge, people in Willcox (I must attend the festival there!), the many helpful and friendly (I'm serious!) Border Patrol Agents, and the many birding guides and gurus met along the way!

But back to the point of this email. 

I mentioned spending my precious vacation time and dollars in YOUR part of Arizona. Not that I'm opposed to visiting Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tucson, Sedona, Superior, the Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Tuba City, Chinle (Canyon de Chelly), or the lands occupied by the Hopi and Navajo Nations: I've been to all those places before becoming a "birder". But now, my vacation is aimed directly at Cochise County. 

Why would anyone spend an entire vacation devoted to seeing birds? 

In my opinion, birding is a wonderful hobby that enriches the soul. Birding can be done anywhere, at any time, in a variety of habits, weather conditions, and climates. It is always rewarding.

So, why does a birder from halfway across the United States care deeply about a small piece of property in southeast Arizona? And, if birding can be done anywhere, what is so special about a small parcel of land bordering the Huachuca Mountains?

Ash Canyon is unique!

Mary Jo Ballator's Ash Canyon B & B is an oasis. A place for hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and orioles. A destination for birders from around the world. 

Mary Jo is a gracious host to all, including visitors wearing binoculars and local, winged residents of her yard festooned in iridescent feathers. She has extended her kindness to me on multiple occasions, sitting with me under the shelter of her house as a late afternoon thunderstorm passed, pointing out the finer points of hummingbird identification, and passing along "foodie" restaurant suggestions too (FYI, we loved the noodles!).

We birders are generally quiet folk, except when celebrating "life birds" (when someone sees a totally new species for the first time) which likely happens with regularity at Mary Jo's. Life bird celebrations might involve a round of "high fives" or congratulations. Folks probably do the "life bird dance", too (good thing I haven't attached a video to this email!).

Please Mr. Dennis, allow Mary Jo to continue welcoming the birding community to her yard. It's a gift! 

I thank you for your time, devotion to public service in Cochise County, and consideration of this matter of great importance to the birding community around the globe.

Ann Oliver, Cincinnati, OH


Beverly Robertson used fewer words, but included some photographs to illustrate her imagery:

I sat in Mary Jo's backyard amidst the flashes of emerald, ruby, sapphire hardly able to breathe for pure delight, not only in the beauty of my surroundings but the exquisite gems that inhabit it.   I hoped to see the Lucifer Hummingbird that Ash Canyon is so renowned for.  I watched in East Coast wonder, for, you see we only have only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird out east.  

Beverly Robertson7336 Beverly Robertson7342 Beverly Robertson7341

photos ©Beverly Robertson

The different species and numbers were so great, that I spent hours snapping my head back and forth between the feeding stations.  Alas, I was too late in the season for the Lucifer, but instead had my first look at a Calliope Hummingbird, a tiny thing that weighs less than a penny.  It is the smallest bird in the U.S. The grounds of the Ash Creek Canyon Bed and Breakfast are an oasis and a mecca for birders across the country.  Please. Please. Allow Mary Jo Ballator and Ash Creek Bed and Breakfast to operate as it has.

Beverly Robertson, Hewitt, NJ


One responder was even more concise, delightfully so:

When I think of Arizona, many positive things come to mind. When I think of southeast Arizona, I become inspired. When I think of Ash Canyon I wonder how soon I can return?

Robert Kyse, Albuquerque, NM


Another photographer, Laura Keene, spoke, as did many of you, of plans to return to Ash Canyon: 

My husband and I visited Cochise County for the first time in late August of 2010 to celebrate our 30th anniversary, and spent several days in the area before traveling to northern Arizona, Utah, and California. It was the highlight of the 3 week trip; I added 65 life birds in SE Arizona, including the Lucifer Hummingbird at Mary Jo’s place. I didn’t have a lot of time during that trip for photography, so I plan to return this summer with my best friend to spend time in Ash Canyon photographing the hummingbirds, and hope to get better photos the beautiful male Lucifer Hummingbird.

Laura Keene1  Laura Keene2
photos of female Lucifer Hummingbird and male Broad-billed Hummingbird ©Laura Keene

I don’t think visiting birders/photographers could possibly be any less disruptive. I am a clinical pharmacist specializing in home infusion therapy and my husband is a software systems engineer specializing in cyber security. My best friend is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health, her husband is a physician. A pretty harmless group with empty nests and disposable income, looking forward to returning to the Ash Canyon B&B in the future, most likely this year.  

Laura Keene, Mason, OH

The mix of writers included everything from high school students to self-described non-birders, as the following two letters show:

I am a high school student and I live in New York, but southeastern Arizona–and especially Ash Canyon–holds great value for me and for many in the birding community as a spectacular destination to observe incredible birds and appreciate the natural value that our country has to offer.

I visited Ms. Ballator two years ago with a group of enthusiastic teenagers like myself (a group made up of students from many states and even other countries) as we traversed Cochise County, enjoying the rich birdlife and natural areas of that part of the state. Of course, there had been time set aside to visit Ash Canyon for chances to view Lucifer Hummingbird, Arizona Woodpecker and other unique bird species  of the region. We spent a good amount of time in the company of Ms. Ballator, enjoying breathtaking views of numerous hummingbirds and an Arizona Woodpecker just feet away. The group then took a break to walk around the property, where we came face-to-face with an adult Gray Hawk, another sought-after denizen of extreme southeast Arizonan lowlands. This impressive bird watched us for several minutes, as we did the same, admiringly. It was the only one we saw on our trip, and I still vividly remember the encounter. 

Benjamin Van Doren, White Plains, NY


Even though I am a nonbirder, I accompanied my husband, Carl, who is a birder, on an excursion to Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary this past June.  It was the most delightful afternoon of birding I have ever experienced.  There was something for every level of birding interest.  For people like me who were content to sit and read, Ms. Ballator was welcoming and gracious.  For experienced birders, Ms. Ballator was a fount of information. The two other birding parties who came to the sanctuary while we visited were quiet and, like us,  made very little impact on the surrounding area.  As we visited, Ms. Ballator made very good suggestions for dining in the local area, and we spent a few days in Sierra Vista with definite plans to return. 

I am surprised that in today's economic climate a governmental agency would limit any tourist activity that has such a positive effect on the local economy with minimum negative effects.  Birders are ideal tourists.  They come to an area to appreciate quietly its local treasures while leaving very slight footprints in their wake. Please continue to allow Ms. Ballator to provide a pleasurable way for those of us from nearby and distant areas to enjoy your local treasures. 

Jill Perretta, Wallingford, PA

Some respondents were celebrities and leaders of our community. Here's Julie Zickefoose, famous for her artistic depictions of her own home/wildlife habitat in a variety of media, paying homage to Mary Jo's:

Adding to what I expect is a flood of letters to your account, here's a hello from Ohio. I would like to support Mary Jo Ballator in trying to keep access to her extraordinary life's work–the grounds of her bed and breakfast–from being cut off to the world. I hope it is becoming clear to the Cochise County Planning Department that in maintaining her gardens and feeding stations, Ms. Ballator is contributing to a far greater public good than the privacy preferences of a single dissenting party. I traveled from Ohio to Bisbee, stayed two nights in a motel, dined in many area establishments, and thoroughly enjoyed shopping around town, all as part of my plan to see the hummingbirds Mary Jo attracts for our pleasure. She's a vital piece of Arizona's ecotourism puzzle, renowned far beyond Bisbee. At Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast, I sat patiently and finally spotted my "life" Lucifer's Hummingbird. Just down the road, my "life" Whiskered Screech-owl and Mexican Whip-poor-will. To a non-birder, finding three rare birds may not seem very significant, but I can assure you that birders, who are frugal people as a rule, will travel and spend to add such birds to our life lists.

I would be very surprised if neighbors found birdwatchers deliberately littering, carousing, or vandalizing property. We are, as a rule, pretty considerate people. In opening her yard to us, Ms. Ballator brings joy to thousands of people who come just to admire all she has built in her plantings and feeding stations. She brings substantial commerce to Bisbee business establishments.  It would be a tragic day for the world birding community and for Bisbee if all that she's worked to build is made inaccessible to the people who seek it out. 

Julie Zickefoose, Whipple, OH


The deluge included old friends, new friends, and persons as yet unknown to me. There were authors, photographers, conservationists, biologists, and doctors. Lots of doctors, actually. There were members of the ABA board of directors and staff. All in all, it was a rich stew of experience and perspective.

I don't expect you'll necessarily read every word of the excerpts (roughly in the order that they were received) that follow, but just a quick scroll through will give you a sense of the the depth of connection and commitment that binds our community to each other and to the places we watch birds.

Thank you all for raising your voices. And best of luck to you, Mary Jo!

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I have yet to visit Arizona but it is certainly on my short list due to all the wonderful experiences as told by many of my friends in the birding community.  Ash Canyon is certainly a prime destination when I arrive in Arizona as I believe it is of utmost importance to support area businesses who in turn support ambassadors such as Mary Jo Ballator.

Tom Dunkerton,Titusville, FL


Birders are a quiet bunch out of necessity, but please hear our voice now as our economic impact is truly great. Birding is one of the fastest growing activities in North America (according to a US Government census) and our travel dollars have helped build communities, especially in southeast Arizona which has become a birding mecca.

Kevin Loughlin, King of Prussia, PA


This location is a hot spot for birds and we are all so grateful to Mary Jo for operating this small business and allowing birders to visit her property.  Without this location, the excitement and allure of southeast Arizona will be greatly diminished. 

Kara Carragher, Colorado Springs, CO     


Please keep Ash Canyon B&B open to birders! I love to travel to see birds and Ash Canyon B&B is a very big reason to go to Arizona!

Phillip J. Kenny, McLean VA  


Mary Jo Ballator has become a major force for promoting the extraordinary natural heritage of Cochise County and indeed all of southeastern Arizona.  Birders from around the nation, and indeed the world, know her B&B as a place to see some very unique birds in a very unique habitat, and in so doing they bring significant economic benefit to your county and to all of Arizona.  At a time when Arizona’s image in the nation needs all the help it can get, she is a wonderful ambassador for you and your state.

Charles L. Bell, Livermore, CO


When planning my birding trip to Southeast Arizona back in 2003, I knew it would include a visit to Ash Canyon B&B because of its unique reputation for hosting an incredible diversity of hummingbird species that come to Ballator’s feeders. This is a nationally recognized “hot-spot” in the birding community and has attracted thousands of US birders and other nature enthusiasts from around the world. For years, I have recommended it as a “must-see” destination to my birding friends and customers; there is no other place like it in North America.

During my weeklong birding excursion in 2003, I stayed at the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee and visited many area businesses and restaurants. I also hired local birding guides to help me find specific bird species in the canyons of the Huachuca Mountains I wanted for my birding life list. It was well worth my money, as I added over 70 birds I had never seen before.

Mike McDowell, Madison, WI 


This really isn't a matter of a "knee-jerk" reaction from birders.  It's a dollars and cents issue for the county and Southeast Arizona,  My wife and I have visited Southern Arizona 15 times over the years, and in fact have seen more species of birds in Cochise County — 239 in all — than in any county in the U.S. and Canada outside our home states of Maryland and Delaware.  We have never lived in Arizona, but visit as often as we can.  Our next trip starts on April 9, 2011, less than two weeks from now, and most of it will be spent in Cochise County.  We virtually always visit the Ash Canyon B&B when we are in the county.

D.H. Michael Bowen, Bethesda, MD 


For the past several years, Mary Jo's property has been fortunate to feature the most reliable United States population of Lucifer Hummingbirds.  This is a great attraction to birders who want to see this hummer within the US borders.  In fact, as far as birders are concerned, the real benefit of the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 was not a southern railroad route, but was the addition of the northern terminus of the Mexican Sierra Madre Occidental.  This extension of essentially Mexican habitat into US territory added some 35 birds to our national total, and by doing so, has pumped millions of dollars into the local economy from the pockets of thousands of crazy birders who come to see them, and from some of us who choose to stay and become taxpayers.

In short, it would be a great loss to the birding community if we were to lose the ability to sit for a half an hour in the shade of Mary Jo's patio and enjoy the activity at her feeders.  Please allow her to continue this graceful service.

David R Ferry, Loma Linda, CA


Our interest in coming to Cochise Co. was spurred by the possibility of seeing a Lucifer Hummingbird. since there  are no other areas that we know of in Arizona where this bird is as likely to be seen. It is also a very good site for seeing other birds but the Lucifer is at the top of the list.  We observed that Mary Jo Ballator was very gracious and welcoming to us and all others who were on her property.  She is a great ambassador for your county.

Rick and Sandy Holbrook, Fargo, ND


Many Maryland birders have enjoyed visits to Cochise County, Arizona, especially to shake off our often harsh winters with an early spring visit. The Ash Canyon B&B is a destination of choice for special Arizona birds that are otherwise rarely seen, such as the fantastic Lucifer Hummingbird. Marylanders frequently plan trips to visit the many sites on the Southeastern Arizona Birding Trail map, and this B&B is site #32.  Please keep it open and available for birders.  We spend money in your area when we visit, and that can’t be a bad thing!

Maureen F. Harvey, Sykesville, MD


Mary Jo Ballator has been a wonderful ambassador for Cochise county, the American birding community, and the state of Arizona. Her presence and open arms has led many birders from around the world into Cochise county when they otherwise would have not visited. Her willingness to share her time and passion has spread like wildfire throughout our community. Also, her home and efforts have become a common source of conversation across the nation because of this passion. I have been to Arizona six times since my first visit and have returned to Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast each and every time to view Mary Jo's wildlife.

Mike Freiberg, Lakewood, CO


In this time of economic hardship throughout the country (and presumably your state and county), I hope that Cochise County would encourage the type of excellent small ecotourism business that Ms. Ballator owns and manages.  I did a rough calculation of our expenditures in southeast Arizona over the last few years and found that my husband and I have spent over $13,000 in gas, hotels, food, and car rentals in your area.  That may not sound like much when one works with budgets of millions of dollars (although it represents a lot to us!), but if one multiplies that number by the thousands of birders that pour into your area each year, I think you will agree that the economic impact is beneficial to the citizens of Arizona as well as Cochise County.

Marcia Balestri, Frederick, MD


I have no doubt that you are hearing from a large community of enthusiastic folks that wish to see access to the grounds of the Ash Canyon B&B as someplace that they can always look forward to visiting – and not just a memory of a place that was.  Please do not turn a deaf ear to these voices.

Christopher Ciccone, Woburn, MA


Our members, including myself, have enjoyed this spot and Ms. Ballator’s hospitality.  In the nine years of operation we are unaware of any conflicts with other property owners.  Birding is a quiet pursuit, so noise certainly is not an issue.  Furthermore, the activity only takes place during daylight, so late-night shenanigans are not an issue.  

In short, Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast is a great recreational and economic resource for Cochise County, which should not bother the neighbors in any way, and we urge you to allow Ms. Ballator to continue her operations.  Southeastern Arizona will be significantly diminished as a birding destination is she has to cease operation.

Kurt R. Schwarz, Ellicott City, MD


Birders are great people: we don't litter, we are quiet and respectful, we don't bring dogs, and all we ask is that we can share the sites where fantastic birds like the Lucifer Hummingbird exist. We don't stay too long either. Please allow Ms. Ballator to continue to give birders access to her fabulous birding spot.

Jane Alexander, New York, NY


For years, we at the American Birding Association have been directing birders to Cochise County and the Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast. In fact, there is a whole page (page 128) devoted to the B & B and its significance as a birding hotspot in our best-selling book, "A Birder's Guide to Southeastern Arizona."The Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast is a great example of how a local business can draw outside funds into a community by tapping into a very large ecotourism industry.

David Hartley, Colorado Springs, CO

I have never been to the Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast; I have never even been to Cochise County, but I was planning to visit this summer. My wife and I had a wonderful time birding in the Phoenix area earlier this year and are looking forward to returning to Arizona as soon as we can.

Robert A. Williams, Tallahassee, FL 


About 4 years ago, I spent 4 days in the county while birding. I probably spent almost $2,000 during that time period for lodging, meals, bird guiding fees, and other incidentals. I spent a delightful hour or two at Ash Canyon B&B viewing the Hummingbirds and other birds present.

Terry Bronson, Morgantown, WV


We all need to be aware of the impact that we have on each other.  My wife and I have reached the age where we think more of what our grandchildren will be able to experience.  Mary Jo has done a great service to the birding community to open her facilities to us in the past and we hope that they will be here for others to enjoy.

Ray and Rosamond Hodson, Austin, TX


Mary Jo has done an outstanding job of providing habitat & food for the birds represented there and for birders wishing to visit and enjoy the idyllic setting. When I've visited (as recently as last December), I noticed that once in the bird viewing area no other houses are visible, and birders stay very quiet, typically sitting on patio furniture, to observe the birds and other wildlife visiting her property (after all, being noisy would be counterproductive to viewing skittish birds.)

Bill Schmoker, Longmont, CO


As someone who is relatively new to serious birding, one of the highlights of my birding life has been the brief visit I have made to Southeastern Arizona.  I have not had the pleasure yet of visiting Ash Canyon, but hope to in the future.  I am very much cognizant of private property rights, and environmental concerns, and try to the best of my ability to keep these issues in mind when I go birding.

I am also well aware of the economic impact that birding has on your region.  Denying access to Mary Jo's property would be a tremendous shame.  I think we would all suffer from this outcome.

Richard S. Latuchie, Rapid City, SD

As a birder from Minnesota, about to visit Southeast Arizona for the fourth time in 10 years, I was dismayed to hear that Cochise County was considering closing down the Ash Canyon B&B, a viable business in the community.  I hope that you will reconsider this idea and realize how important the income the county receives from birders like me is to the local economy.  I always believed the area welcomed birders and I hope that belief can continue.

Molly Thompson, Duluth, MN


I travel to Southeast Arizona from my home in Alaska at least once a year in search of birds.  Southeast Arizona has many great places for birding, and a visit to Ash Canyon is always part of the itinerary.  Mary Jo Ballator has created a fantastic spot for birds and birders, and I hope that the birding public continues to have access to her well-tended gardens and feeders.

Brad Meiklejohn, Eagle River, AK


I am a yearly visitor to AZ, and one of my stops is always Mary Jo Ballator's unique property, which seems to attract huge numbers of birds, and rarities which I have found no where else. While I am visiting Mary Jo's, I spend a fair amount of money in the local area.  For example, a friend and I booked two rooms at the Sierra Suites Hotel in Sierra Vista on 4 September 2010.  Add to that dinners at the Mesquite Tree, and a restaurant recommended by Mary Jo, (I can't remember the name but it wasn't too far from the entrance to Ash Canyon) plus gas, groceries, wine, etc., and it added up.  Multiply that by the many other visitors, including birding groups comprised of 15 or so people, throughout the season, and you can see the benefit to the local economy.

 Joan Renninger, Harrisburg, PA


My wife and I have had the privilege of spending over 30 days bird watching in Southeast Arizona during two recent trips.  A highlight of each trip has been the time we spent at the Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast. We are planning to take additional trips to Southeast Arizona, and being able to visit the Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast is one of the strong draws for visiting Sierra Vista.

William and Gayle Hill, Glenwood, MD

Southeast Arizona is the prime natural history destination in the United States, and Cochise County is the jewel in the crown.

I have been bringing clients and guests from California to Cochise County for years, and my groups have spent many nights in local motels, eaten meals in local restaurants, and filled tanks at local gas stations. Mary Jo Ballator's Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast has always been on our itineraries, a highlight for my clients who are interested in the birds and wildlife of Cochise County.

My clients have come away from their visits with a new appreciation for the natural and human history of southeast Arizona, and in turn they have made significant contributions to the business community of Cochise County. It would be a great loss for all parties should access to Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast be restricted as the result of the interference of officious neighbors.

I urge you to stand strong in Arizona's tradition of respect for private property rights and to affirm Mary Jo Ballator's right to continue to welcome visitors to her establishment. It only makes sense for Cochise County to take full advantage of its unique opportunities to simultaneously encourage ecotourism and support local small businesses.

Ken Wilson, Petaluma, CA


My draw to Ash Canyon B&B is its reputation for outstanding examples of area specialties and the exemplary manor in which the B&B is run. I certainly hope that Mary Jo will continue to be able to run her small business and to showcase the best that Arizona has to offer.

Wil Hershberger, Hedgesville, WV


I have had the great pleasure to visit this property not once but twice, in the spring of 2008 and the summer of 2009.  On both occasions my visit was inspired by the opportunity to experience native habitats of SE Arizona and the possibility of viewing rare hummingbird species, including those who frequent feeders such as those maintained by Mary Jo Ballator.  Her property is well-known throughout the international birding community, and the chance to meet her and view her feeders was a primary reason behind our visit. 

Dana Bollin, Oak Harbor, OH


Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast is one of the best locations in the United States to view Lucifer Hummingbirds – it is where I saw my Life Bird.

Virginia T. Goolsby, Morristown, TN


As an avid birder, I want to strongly encourage you to allow the Ash Canyon B&B to continue to operate as it has been.  This is an excellent place to sit quietly and watch and photograph birds.  In fact, I have made plans to come to Sierra Vista at the end of April, 2011 so that I can photograph hummingbirds at the Ash Canyon B&B. 

Steven Matherly, Houston, TX


I am a birder which often comes to Arizona for birding trips. It is one of my favorite destinations to escape the Alaskan winters, especially Southeastern Arizona. I have been birding for 45 years and Ash Canyon B&B is the only place I have ever seen a Lucifer Hummingbird.

Bob Dittrick, Anchorage, AK


I am a part year resident and full year tax payer of Cochise County, owning a home in Hereford. The reason I bought in this area was mainly because of the birds and reasonable access to such sites as Mary Jo's. This is a beautiful area. 

I respectfully ask you to consider the importance of access to this business for visitors to this part of Arizona and visitors that may live just down the road. 

Bob Trotter, Hereford, AZ


Cochise County is a wonderful place to go birdwatching.  For many birders, it is a dream destination where they will spend years planning their visit.  Others will return annually or every few years as their budgets allow.  One of the key locations is the Ash County B&B.  Mary Jo goes out of her way to make birders feel extremely welcome.  The reward for a visit to her business is the chance to see some of this countries rarest hummingbirds, particularly the Lucifer Hummingbird.  I know many birders from my own local bird club who have made the trip to Cochise County as well as others who intend to visit.  They all plan to stop at the Ash County B&B.  It is my intention to return in 2012.

Erik Bruder, Westlake, OH 


I annually make a week-long trip to the Sierra Vista area for bird photography and I leave quite a few of my hard-earned dollars behind with you kind folks every year for the chance to watch and photograph birds that one cannot find anywhere else in this country. 

If you can find a way to continue to allow the people from all over the world to come and enjoy this unique experience while at the same time mitigate any problems one grumpy neighbor might have with the birding community, and still allow her to stay in business, many thousands of people would be grateful to you. I'm sure you can come up with a solution that will be more neighbor-friendly and that the birding community can comply with.

Gary Woods, Fresno, CA


If Cochise County is anything like the Florida counties we have lived and birded in, it probably wants to do everything it can to promote ecotourism as a way to both help local businesses and preserve the quality of life which presumably attracted people to the county in the first place. I can assure you that in my experience, birders are well-mannered individuals who do respect property rights, and make good neighbors.

Lynn E. Peterson, Tallahassee, FL


Southeast Arizona is a birders paradise and I believe that we pay a major role in the tourism industry of that part of the state.  I also believe that we are respectful of the private property rights of others and certainly if there are particular issues with respect to Ash Canyon, that they can be worked out without the need to prevent access to the B&B. 

Michele Hymel, no location given


I have lived in Arizona since 2000 and have visited Ash Canyon or stayed there many times over the years.  I can't tell you how many friends and relatives I have introduced to the area in that time.  It would really be a loss to the birding community if public access to this beautiful place was restricted.  Visiting with Mary Jo Ballator and watching birds with her is a true pleasure.

Olga Harbour, Tucson, AZ


I understand that the Ash Canyon B&B business is subject to review and urge that you ensure that access to this business property by birders such as myself is maintained. We gladly contribute to the local economy by payment of fees and the purchase of local services such as food and lodging. 

Eric Myers, Anchorage, AK


We have been hoping to make a birding trip to Arizona for a long time and recently decided that this would be the year. We are literally days away from instigating travel plans for this summer. While we may not be so lucky as to be able to stay at the Ash Canyon B & B, we certainly hope to be able to visit while we are in the area. Denial of a permit for operations for this business will make us feel less welcome in Arizona and may cause us to consider making plans to spend our time and money elsewhere.

Leslie Starr & Joseph Turner, Baltimore, MD


Birders couldn't be more benign visitors AND they bring attention and money to that area. I've been to Southeast Arizona several times, splitting my time between one or two of several "hot spots," but I always visit the Ash Canyon B&B. And I'll certainly go back — if it's there.

Ellen Blackstone, Seattle, WA

Keeping this area publicly accessible is not simply a kindness that you are doing for the birders.  This is a way to help the Bisbee economy.  Birders pay for lodging and gas, they eat and they purchase goods in this town.  My husband and I are flying out to southeastern Arizona tomorrow for a five day trip where we will be doing all these things.  

Elizabeth Ruzich, Salt Lake City, UT

Your home area in Arizona is also home to some of this country's most outstanding and sought-after birdlife. Birders from around the world make annual trips to that small corner of the world to share in its beauty with you. Myriad others, myself included, dream and save for years for such an opportunity as well. We come for the magnificent array of birds, some of which cannot reasonably be seen elsewhere in the country. We come for the camaraderie and hospitality that your neighbors, highlighted by Ms. Ballator, have extended. We spend dollars in your hotels and restaurants. We patronize your parks and gardens. We reserve your guides and rentals. And we donate to your charities and conservation efforts. Your community is of great importance to us; and we hope the birding community is of great importance to yours as well.  

Derek D. Courtney, Morgantown, WV

Limiting access to land has become a problem in many areas of Arizona and it is starting to have a real impact. (For the first time it has shut down the pronghorn antelope hunt this year for an area in Arizona.) I’ve found most birders tend to practice a “leave no trace” philosophy. I have hosted many birding and nectivorous bat activities here in Nogales. Fortunately my neighbors realize the benefit of educating folks to preserve and enhance our wildlife resources. Arizona, especially southeastern Arizona, is unique in hosting so truly remarkable species. Let’s continue to welcome outdoor-minded individuals to our state.

Linda W. Pfister, Nogales, AZ

I have twice visited Cochise County on birding and natural history trips while on vacation from my home in British Columbia, Canada. With the significance of southeast Arizona to birds and by extension birders, I plan to return again.

The types of wildlife viewing opportunities that Mary Jo Ballator provides on her property are rare and of great significance. The loss of access to this property would be detrimental, and I truly hope that your decision is favorable to the Ash Canyon B&B.

Nathan Hentze, Burnaby, BC


I am from Ohio and travelled to southeast Arizona 3 years ago and am planning a return trip in 2012. Let me just say that I was very impressed with the birding in your county. You should know that Mary Jo Ballator is in multiple published resources as an important stop over for specialty birds in your area. These are national and regional publications I researched prior to visiting your wonderful area. I can also tell you first hand that she lives up to her exalted reputation of being a first rate hostess and educator. I hope that any issues can be resolved with a compromise that allows for continued public access. 

Mike Acheson, Ohio


Many of my friends that also watch birds have told me for years that I must visit Southeast Arizona. After several years of just listening to them I did visit last September and I was not disappointed. I visited many areas in Southeast Arizona while I was there and one of my highlights was visiting Mary Jo Ballator and the Ash Canyon B&B. 

I was so enthusiastic in telling friends about my trip to Arizona that they now want me to lead them on a trip down there next Fall. I would consider it a great loss to our trip if we were not able to visit the Ash Canyon B&B. 

John Habig, Carlisle, OH


I worked in Cochise County throughout last summer conducting biological research along the San Pedro River, and I must say that at the end of a hot day at work visiting the Bed and Breakfasts of the area were such a relaxing and enjoyable experience. To lose permission to access even just one of them would be devastating.  

Andria Kroner, no location given


I urge you to talk to other business owners in the area and ask them what impact shuting down the business would have. I ask you to allow Ms. Ballator to keep her business open to visiting birdwatchers. A good friend of mine from Ohio has regailed me with how nice the birding was at Ash Canyon last year.  One day I hope to be able to visit and see the natural wonders myself.

David Collopy, Dayton, OH


I am with the Birders from Rincon Country RV Resort in Tucson, AZ.  I am writing to voice my support and the support or our group of 30+, for Mary Jo Ballator and her request to continue to allow birders access to her Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast. Mary Jo does a wonderful job of showcasing the migrating birds.  Her tireless efforts making this the best location in S.E. Arizona for this purpose. Please find favorably for allowing her business to continue to operate as usual.

Troy T. Hall, Tucson, AZ

I have been to Southeast Arizona 5 times in the past 10 years for birding. I stay in hotels, rent cars, eat in restaurants and hire guides. All of this because it is a great place and welcoming to birders. I would not come if we were shut out of places like Ash Canyon B&B. Please do the right thing and keep this wonderful resource available.

Jack Stephens, Edmonds, WA


Three years ago, my wife and I were birding in the Patagonia area when we ran into several other birders.  We had been planning on going down to the Kino Springs area, but we were told about a White-eared Hummingbird at Beatty's and a Lucifer Hummingbird at Ash Canyon.  That immediately changed our plans.  We headed off to the east and ended up spending a lovely hour or two at Beatty's before moving on to the Ash Canyon B & B.  There, we were greeted by Mary Jo Ballator, the owner.  We spent at least two hours at her place, most of the time with her.  She sat at the feeders with us and told us about many of the birds that she'd recently had and of the birders that had been there to see them.  We bought some sodas, walked around her property to see a few feeders in the back, but mostly we sat down and rested in front by the main hummingbird feeder display.  All the feeders are numbered, so if a bird shows up, all the people there can easily by pointed to the proper spot.  The Lucifer finally arrived, we thanked Mary Jo for her time, kindness, and dedication and went on our way.  

We, as birders, have it drilled into us repeatedly to respect so many things; the birds, their nests, other birders, and especially private property.  With the odd exception, we do very well.  My wife and I came, saw, left, and aside from seeing or hearing our car drive in and out, I don't think anyone but Mary Jo would know we were ever there.  

I'm planning a trip to the southeast canyons of Arizona this August.   It would make me very happy to revisit Ash Canyon and say hello again to Mary Jo and tell her how much she helped us the last time.  I'd be upset if I couldn't visit there anymore, but i'd be devastated for Mary Jo.  She gives so much and I truly believe that she enjoys spending the time with us birders.  She certainly made us feel welcome on our first visit.  I would like to be able to think it was the first of many.

John Breitsch, Denver, CO


I am an avid birdwatcher and have traveled from as far away as Delaware to travel to, visit, and stay in Cochise County and Ms. Ballator's B&B. Her hospitality and friendliness towards her birding guests is unmatched. Equally unmatched is her unbelievable location. I have seen several birds at Ash Canyon B&B that I had never seen before and in fact, have not seen since. 

Frank Marenghi, Annapolis, MD


I was an Arizona resident for many years, and although I now live in Ohio, I still make annual trips to visit southeastern Arizona.  Cochise County is fabled among the birders of North America — indeed, the birders of the world — for its fabulous habitats and rich diversity of birdlife.  More than 60 years ago, ornithologist Herbert Brandt suggested that Cochise County has more variety of nesting bird species than any other county in the U.S., and I believe that distinction would still hold up today.  As a result, birders and naturalists visit the county in a steady stream all year, providing major support for the tourism industry and the economy. 

By generously opening up her property to visiting birders, and thus adding to the attraction for these tourists, Ms Ballator is actually making a direct contribution to the local economy and I think she deserves praise for that.  Birders in general are the most well-behaved tourists imaginable, quiet and respectful of private property.  I can't see any serious disadvantage to continuing to allow birders to visit Ms Ballator's property, and the advantages for the whole community are considerable.  I hope you'll find in favor of allowing Ms Ballator's small business to continue operating as it has been for the last decade.

Kenn Kaufman, Oak Harbor, OH


I have only been to Ash Canyon once, back in April 2006, and my recollection is that it is a very nice property.  To people like myself, Mary Jo’s place is extremely valuable and provides a much needed service.  Like the Paton’s in Patagonia, I am more appreciative than words can describe when people like that willingly open up their properties so anyone can visit and share in their splendor.

I graduated from NAU in the mid-80s and have lived and worked in many parts of the world since then.  But Arizona is still a second home to me; I have been all over the state and still visit whenever I can. Also, there is a strong probability that I will one day own property in Pima or Cochise County.  If that ever happens I would hate to find myself in a similar position as Mary Jo, having to battle something of this nature.  There is already far too much negativity emanating from your part of the state due to the border security issues.  I seriously cannot imagine what the local community has to gain by not allowing her to operate as she has in the past.  I certainly hope to get back down to Ash Canyon one day and if I do it would sure be nice not to get run off.

Ron Batie, Porterville, CA


As a member of the RINCON RV Park Bird club, I have visited this site many times over the past 8 years and enjoy what Mary Jo has done to keep this the best birding site in SE Arizona. We always make sure that we park only on Mary Jo’s area so not to interfere with her neighbors.

Jerry Paulson, Tucson, AZ

Last summer I went birding at Ms. Ballator's yard in Ash Canyon. There were upwards of 20 people there around sunset. It was a very serene and peaceful experience, with people talking mostly in whispers, sharing sightings of birds and pointing out what had flown in and where. It was clear that each person was glad to be there, sincerely interested in and sensitive to the wildlife, and respectful of the landscape and the neighbors. Birders are generally an enthusiastic bunch, with a reverence for nature bordering on devotion. Throughout the whole time Ms. Ballator maintained a gentle but "in charge" presence.

Delia Hitz, San Rafael, CA