The Coconino National Forest says lawless merrymakers sledding at Cinch Hook will now start getting citations — not to mention tickets for parking on the highway.
The Forest’s new ‘get tough’ stance promises to freeze into place this season’s shutdown of the most popular snowplay area in Rim Country.
“We’ve made a really good-faith effort to let people know what’s going on,” said Jerry Gonzales, on the recreation staff for the Mogollon Rim Ranger District.
However, despite the closure — sometimes hundreds of people continue to use the site on the weekend, tromping through fresh snow past no less than four closure signs.
“The problem we’re running into — we’ve got folks that even though they know it’s closed, they’re bound and determined to use it.”
As a result, rangers will start issuing citations and the Department of Public Safety will start ticketing cars that park along the highway.
The treeless slopes of the “mineral pit” off Highway 87 near the Camp Verde turnoff offers perhaps the best, easily accessible sledding area in Rim Country.
When it is open, the parking area holds only 40 to 80 cars, so people often park along the highways — posing a safety hazard, said Gonzales.
Moreover, forest officials worry about littering, sanitation and injuries.
Injuries there have in past years accounted for the bulk of the winter emergency medical calls for the Pine/Strawberry Fire District.
Last year, the Forest Service tried to limit use and parking, and put portable toilets on site.
However, someone shot the toilets full of holes and, after the season, volunteers picked up 200 bags of trash sledders didn’t bother to put in the dumpster provided by the Forest Service.
“They just shot the porta potties full of holes,” said Gonzales. “We had people sliding off the back of the hill right onto the highway. I don’t know what’s going on with people that they can’t see the hazard in that, but it’s a big safety issue and the one thing we don’t want is to get someone hurt.”
Residents want play area
Rim Country residents have protested the shutdown, since it eliminates Payson’s closest reliable place for sleds and other winter snow play.
“It was just fabulous,” said Payson resident Lois McClusky.
She said the site provided a draw for winter tourists and a place for local residents to take visitors.
“It provides winter income and was such a great place to play,” she said.
She said the Forest Service should hire a private concessionaire to run the site in the winter, which could control parking, littering and other problems.
However, Gonzales said the forest managers had concluded no concessionaire could make a go of the operation with less than about 200 parking spaces. With careful parking, the current site could get about 80 cars into the area off the highway, he said.
Gonzales also said that the site remains a registered mineral pit and that any resumption of digging to extract minerals there could clash with any improvements made by someone running it as a winter play spot.
So at the moment, forest managers will just keep the site closed and aren’t looking for a contractor to run a snow play area.
Gonzales said the forest managers would certainly consider any proposals.
“We would consider any reasonable alterative, if it’s within our priorities, so to speak. I don’t think we’d ever say we have a closed mind to anything,” said Gonzales.
The decision leaves Rim residents seeking a little snow play a short list of options.
The Coconino Forest has designated a snow play area at Happy Jack Lodge, which is on Lake Mary Road at milepost 295.5. But that’s a long drive for Payson residents.
The Payson Ranger District in the Tonto National Forest has no designated snow play areas.
Adventurous sledders can often find small slopes not far from the highway between Kohl’s Ranch and the top of the Rim — but the snow is inconsistent and the hills are beset by trees.
Cross-country skiers can always get on Forest Road 300 where it crosses the highway atop the Rim, but the mostly flat expanses along the Rim don’t offer many slopes likely to thrill kids on inner tubes.
That leaves people seeking serious snow play on a meandering quest — or sneaking past the closure signs at Cinch Hook.
But that last option will get expensive starting now, said Gonzales, as rangers start swinging by the site to issue tickets to anyone they find in the area.
“The only action we have is the citation,” he said.
“If you’re going to walk past three or four signs that say it’s closed but you’re going to use it irregardless, then there’s not to much we can say,” he concluded.