Forest Service Seeks Input On Land Exchange, Mine Closures

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The public's chance to comment on the closing of four Rim country mines and the Ellison Creek land exchange is winding down.

The Ellison Creek land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and the Ellison Creek Homeowners Association would trade 143.43 acres of National Forest land for 520.82 acres of private lands located within the boundaries of national forests in Arizona. Ellison Creek is a community of summer homes located on the Control Road seven miles off Highway 260 past Tonto Village.

"The purpose of this exchange proposal is to convey National Forest System land that is currently used for 60 recreational residences into private ownership and for the United States to acquire six unimproved properties that would be managed as part of the National Forest System," Payson District Ranger Ed Armenta said.

The parcels the Forest Service would acquire through the exchange include a 40-acre parcel 10 miles south of Williams in the Kaibab National Forest, a 41-acre parcel along the Verde River in the Prescott National Forest, a 160-acre parcel northwest of Young in the Tonto National Forest, a 70-acre parcel north of Young also in the Tonto National Forest, a 50-acre parcel two miles southeast of Sprucedale in the Apache National Forest, and a 160-acre parcel one mile southeast of Sprucedale, also in the Apache National Forest.

The Ellison Creek Homeowners Association proposed the deal, Rod Byers said, lands and minerals staff officer for the Payson Ranger District

"These (60) cabins were permitted back in 1954 and they've essentially been carried under permit ever since," Byers said. "The owners submitted a proposal to us about six years ago, and they put together a package of properties that were attractive to us for inclusion in the forest."

According to Byers, the association has drafted a subdivision plat and submitted it to Gila County.

After a final review of the exchange proposal, scheduled for the third week of September, a final decision will be made.

"That hinges on the appraisal being done by then, which we expect," Byers said. "If not, that will postpone it until March, when the next review is."

Comments should be submitted in writing to the Payson Ranger District or any Tonto National Forest office by Aug. 7.

Mine Closures

Besides the Royal Flush mine, the Forest Service wants to close the Golden Wonder, Maggie and Callahan Mines -- all in the Payson Ranger District in an area about five miles south of Payson.

"What we're doing is slowly identifying and plugging up the shafts that are around town that kids are playing in," Byers said. "They're old mine shafts that are dangerous."

A total of 80 abandoned mines are located in the Rim country, some more dangerous and accessible than others. State law requires that inactive mines be secured.

"As we get a few bucks here and there, we're making an attempt to plug up some of those old holes in the ground," Byers said.

This past year, the Crackerjack Mine northwest of Payson was closed because the Forest Service considered it to be extremely dangerous. It's also closed the Highline Mine south of town.

Problems at the old mines aren't limited to young children.

"Last Fourth of July, somebody went out to the old Royal Flush mine and was shooting rockets into the mine," Byers said.

Abandoned mines can also pose environmental problems.

"We want to do everything we can to ensure the public safety as well as to manage the land," Armenta said. "There's some erosion going on out there."

In most cases, the Forest Service simply plugs the holes, but environmental concerns can make the process more costly and time consuming.

Written comments on closing the four mines must be submitted by Aug. 31 to Byers at the Payson Ranger District.

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