The Forest Service on Monday in Payson will air a plan to protect Fossil Creek by collecting a fee from visitors, imposing an array of restrictions on cars and campers and closing the road to the creek to all but shuttle buses on busy summer weekends.
The plan represents an ambitious effort to protect the travertine-rich waters of the spring-fed creek from the impact of the avalanche of summer weekend visitors.
The creek has become one of the most important refuges for native fish and other species in the Southwest, but draws huge crowds on weekends that often leave behind litter and smoldering campfires.
The recent designation of the chain of waterfalls and deep pools glimmering with native fish as one of two “wild and scenic” rivers in Arizona prompted the Forest Service to start work on a new management plan.
They will seek public reaction to the plan on Monday, April 11 from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Payson Public Library.
The plan divides up the creek into different sections, with different rules to regulate the use of each stretch of the river.
The new rules will institute year-round fees, ban glass containers and campfires and restrict vehicle access to a few, designated roads and parking areas.
The proposed rules for the middle section of the river that runs along Fossil Creek Road will likely spur the most interest — and disagreement.
Along that stretch, the Forest Service would charge a day-use fee, but ban vehicles entirely during the holidays and summer weekends. Instead, the Forest Service would provide a parking area on the rim of the canyon and shuttle buses to take visitors down to the stream.
The plan calls for one parking area and shuttle hub just outside of Strawberry and another near Camp Verde, with buses running visitors down Fossil Creek Road from each end to the stretch in the middle where the old power plant and parking areas stand.
The Forest Service would also probably limit the number of people allowed into that middle reach of the canyon on summer weekends to between 500 and 1,100 per day. Last summer, visitation during the peak summer weeks often topped 1,100 for the weekend.
The rules would also likely limit the size of groups allowed into the canyon during those peak weekends and allow camping only with a permit.
The plan also calls for the construction of a helipad in the bottom of the canyon. That would satisfy the suggestions of search and rescue crews, who had to go into the canyon to haul out injured swimmers and hikers repeatedly last summer.