The Little Big Park that Could 

By Stacey Lane, Black Canyon Bullet 

The theme of one of the most popular and famous children’s books of all time is “The Little Engine that Could.”  Its title and its theme of “I think I can” have become part of the American vernacular that continues to chug along in an important way.

Off Interstate 17, peeks a sleepy western town around 45 minutes north of Phoenix, nestled in the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains called Black Canyon City.  Interestingly enough, it is not officially designated as a city or a town, which is a testament to the fact that folks in Black Canyon have a hankering for doing things in a unique fashion.

Black Canyon City’s High Desert Park rests atop a high hill surrounded by a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.  At sunset, these hills cast a glow called a reverse sunset.  The “I thought I could” mentality is most recently exemplified in a Holiday Dinner that fed several hundred of the approximately 3,000 people that are smart enough to live there along with turkey dinners delivered to several at home within the community. Among the residents that find themselves here for many a reason includes a humble woman by the name of Jean Johnson.

Johnson’s actions speak loudest. “In the last 10 years, I have had the opportunity to experience the importance of life, love, and sharing in Black Canyon City that has reaffirmed my belief in we all are part of the whole.  At that same time, I had the opportunity to join The Salvation Army as a Volunteer right here in Black Canyon City,” Ms. Johnson said.  Being such a small town there were only three people serving in volunteer positions for The Salvation Army and this provided Jean with an opportunity to be a conduit to help those in need. “Emergency food boxes was a big part of the services we provided,” Jean Johnson added.jeanhigh79


Ms. Johnson became involved with High Desert Helpers, Inc. by helping them with putting together Christmas Food Boxes.  The relationship continued with High Desert Helpers, Inc. and became more and more a part of what Ms. Johnson did.  In this town, all the different agencies and organizations work closely together to take care of those in need.

“There is nothing that brings greater joy than to open the doors of the Clubhouse at the Park on Thanksgiving Day and see so many families, the young and the old gather for a traditional dinner crafted by the hands and by the hearts of their neighbors,” Johnson remarked.  There is no charge for the dinner, but a donation jar sat full from all willing players.


Upon entering the dining room, it appeared as if there were as many volunteers as there were diners in the room decorated by rustic fall colors sprinkled with gold that complemented the table cloths and festive centerpieces.   The cheerful faces of the volunteers serving hot plates full of moist turkey slices, homemade mash potatoes and gravy, sautéed and steamed vegetables along with cranberry sauce and all the dressings were all part of the delight.  Backdrops included hugs from the many diners filled with gratitude while a warm blessing drifted from the kitchen area.


Behind the scene, Chef Diane, was working hard at not working as the majority of the preparation was done in advance.  “I had everything basically cooked by 7 a.m. Thanksgiving morning,” the Chef shared. For the past couple of weeks prior to the event many volunteers were hard at work as cooking included 16 turkeys, weighing in at 205 pounds, add 150 pounds of potatoes, and drying breads for large trays of stuffing.

Volunteers who work at the kitchen or in preparation have a Food Handlers Card regulated by Kitchen Manager Oversight. “I cooked the turkeys six at a time, while a generous friend peeled and cooked all the potatoes in advance along with the homemade pork sausage stuffing, Chef remarked.  Member Paula Albin made 30 something pumpkin pies and many other members also baked goods to ensure a variety of desserts.”


In 2013, Jean Johnson joined High Desert Helpers, Inc as a member.  High Desert Helpers, Inc. is a non-profit organization that was formed in 2000 to take care of the High Desert Park in Black Canyon City, and to continue the legacy of the “Filthy Five.”  The Filthy Five started in 1974 by five male residents whose intention was to help those in need.  The group derived its name of the concept of the fingers on a working person’s hand, each denoting the ideas “To Live, To Give, To Love, To Help, To Work.”

Every year fund raisers were held in order to provide a Thanksgiving Dinner each year and provide Christmas for the kids that otherwise would not have.  The Filthy Five was instrumental in helping to build the County Park, and was able to help the community in countless ways.   When High Desert Helpers started, its intention was to continue the legacy of the Filthy Five, and continue to provide the best for the Park, the Community and future generations.

High Desert Helpers is now gearing up for the preparation of its Christmas Food Boxes.  “We give them out on the morning of December 24th.  This year we anticipate approximately 70 families, but the final number is not known until December 17th when Breakfast with Santa takes place from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Park,” Johnson commented.


All of the events and services of High Desert Helpers, Inc. are provided for free.  “We are the conduit to give the community the generosity of those that want to give to others.  If you would like to help us to make the lives better for others call us at 623-374-5262,” Jean Johnson added.

High Desert Park is located at 19001 Jacie Lane in Black Canyon City.  To think of hard things and to say, “I can’t” is sure to mean “nothing done.”  To refuse to be daunted, to share and to give by saying, “I think I can,” is to make sure of being able to say, “I thought I could,” and did, just as the Filthy Five.

To learn more visit; http://www.highdeserthelpers.org

Yet, another ‘sign‘ of good will – The High Desert Park Signage was recently restored with revisions, by Black Canyon City Artist, Ruth Ann Beeler-Sturgill of Canyon West Studios.