The restoration of Fossil Creek, a project almost 10 years in the making, came to fruition Saturday.
The waters of Fossil Creek were set free when Arizona Public Service officially closed the Irving and Childs power plants.
This is quite possibly the first time in Arizona that a dammed waterway has been voluntarily restored to its natural full flow.
Restoring Fossil Creek will have the effect of "energizing the soul of the people," said Pat Graham, state director of the Nature Conservancy.
"It's really a remarkable reversal of roles," he said. "I'm not aware of too many other opportunities to replicate this in Arizona, but hopefully it can be replicated in other areas of the country when it's appropriate."
Fossil Creek has the unusual quality of developing travertine pools, which provide good areas for fish to spawn and replenish their numbers. Travertine pools form when limestone is deposited by the water.
Over time, Fossil Creek's travertine deposits will return, making the creek an excellent spot for visiting sportsmen and nature lovers.
"This is truly a remarkable accomplishment," Jack Davis, president of APS, said of the cooperative effort among APS, environmental groups, local municipalities and the Yavapai-Apache Nation. "Restoring Fossil Creek is just the right thing to do."
But for the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the day symbolized a return to harmony with the earth after holding the creek back for so long. The Apache lived along Fossil Creek long before it was harnessed to generate hydroelectric power, and representatives for the nation spoke of their gratitude for the water's release.
"I think this is a big statement by APS to make the removal from the area," said Jamie Fullmer, chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, as he held back tears. "And that's because to us water is sacred."
But while APS and its partners celebrated the restoration of the creek, the crew of the Irving and Childs power plants saw the day differently.
The plants, first constructed to power neighboring mines, were the state's first hydroelectric power plants and contributed to Arizona's development over almost 100 years of operation.
The area is remote enough that some of the crew lives on site. And with a few employees' children who grew up at the plant now working there, there is a sense that an era is ending.
"Naturally the crew is kind of sad on a day like today," said Mike Stewart, Irving and Childs plant manager.
Stewart said even though he has a house in Payson, leaving the plant would be like leaving home because he has spent a big part of his life there.
Nora Rasure, forest supervisor with the Coconino National Forest, said the restoration of Fossil Creek is not an end in itself and it will bring its own challenges.
The challenge will be to maintain and protect the area in the face of increased public use, Rasure said.
But the Forrest Service will have some help from a temporary fishing restriction for the creek, which will last until Jan. 1, 2007. The Arizona Department of Game and Fish has placed a hold on fishing to allow native fish reintroduced last November to replenish their numbers.
For now, Northern Arizona University will be watching the creek to see how the life in and around the creek responds to the increased water flow.
The creek's restoration provides the opportunity to learn whether a man-made restoration can be effective, said Bill Auberle, director of Engineering Programs at NAU. Auberle has been working as the head of research and coordination of Fossil Creek for NAU.
"This is part of a once in a lifetime [opportunity] because we don't see deconstruction and reconstruction of ecosystem," he said.