Renowned for its backyard birds and scenic location, the Paton Center was acquired by the Tucson Audubon Society with generous help from the American Bird Conservancy and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours early in 2014. It was established as an international birding destination several decades earlier by Wally and Marion Paton, homeowners with a heart for birds and birders alike. When the Patons passed away in 2001 and 2009, the birding community began pulling together to save this gem for future generations.
Wally and Marion Paton first began inviting birders into their yard shortly after moving to Patagonia in 1973. They eventually put up a canopy and set out benches, bird books, and a chalkboard for people to record their sightings. (And constructed a fountain. See image of them celebrating its completion in 1996) The Patons had a special vision for supporting their backyard birds with an array of feeding stations—and supporting the wider birding community by sharing the riches of their yard. After Wally passed away in 2001 and Marion in 2009, the birding community was left with an inspiring legacy upon which to build.
Many people and events conspired to bring the Patons’ home safely under the direction of Tucson Audubon. It began when 104 year-old Ann Cullen Smith contacted Victor Emanuel with news that the house was for sale. Victor, then a board member of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), worked with George Fenwick, President of ABC, to initiate an international fundraising campaign led by the Board of ABC, to raise the funds for the purchase of the property. George called Paul Green, Executive Director of Tucson Audubon, to ask the question if we would accept the gift of the property and then manage it for the birding community. To make that possible, Tucson Audubon needed funds to cover the costs of renovation, restoration, enhancement, and management of the site. Dorothy Fitch and John Munier first stepped forward with a gift to begin that process. Then Marcia Grand sealed the deal with a significant donation made in the nick of time.
Through the Richard Grand Foundation, Marcia Grand donated funds to celebrate the life of her late husband. Richard was an attorney who loved to support and protect the vulnerable—not only his clients, but also his backyard birds, and especially hummingbirds. We are grateful for this gift to the birds and the birding world, and delighted to honor Richard’s life by helping people explore and experience our flying jewels.
In the months since many people have come forward with very generous donations to ensure a secure future for the site, including additional funds from ABC for which we are very grateful.
Violet-crowned Hummingbird image by Dan Weisz.