After more than 200 cars crammed alongside Highway 87, bringing sledding enthusiasts to tackle the hill at Cinch Hook last week, the U.S. Forest Service has reversed a decision to keep the popular site closed. It has opened the gates, allowing visitors to enjoy the popular hill and the recent snowfall.
“It is open, but not staffed, so it is entry at your own risk,” said Mogollon Rim Ranger District information officer June Hermann. “There is limited parking and it is still unlawful to go in if the gate is closed.”
The hill is a popular destination for Valley and Rim Country residents who bring tubes, sleds and other devices to glide down the hill and frolic in the snow.
Hermann said after a flood of cars took over the area in late December, the Forest Service decided to open the gates.
“People just took it over,” she said. “There were so many people there, so we decided just to open.”
For more than 15 years, every time enough snow falls, hordes of people come up to play in the area causing multiple parking and enforcement problems for authorities, said Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Whetten.
“We are trying to be considerate with their (Forest Service) enforcement actions, but that was a snow play area for years, which puts it on our shoulders to enforce its closure,” Whetten said.
DPS officers are asking motorists to stay out of the roadway when parking and try to park in the plowed parking area. Whetten said he told his officers to take a “considerate approach” when issuing tickets, because many people may not know the area is closed. So far, no cars have been towed or cited, but Whetten stressed it is illegal to park on the highway.
Hermann estimated there is enough parking for around 30 cars near the hill and 90 cars if the area is plowed.
The Forest Service does not have the funds to properly open the area with restrooms, trash receptacles and regular snow plowing, and no concessionaires have obtained the necessary permits to manage the area.
Jerry Gonzales, with the public service staff at the Mogollon Rim Ranger District said they are still looking for a concessionaire to run the area, but so far, no one has followed through.
“It would be ideal to get someone next year,” Gonzales said.
To find out if the gate is open, call the Mogollon Rim Ranger District at (928) 477-2255 or visit http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.