The U.S. Forest Service appears determined to slam the door on access to Fossil Creek from Rim Country.
The seven proposed management schemes for the vital, wildly popular creek have one thing in common: They completely ignore the economic impact on Rim Country and show an appalling lack of interest in any partnership with this community.
We hope Rim Country residents will crowd into the hearings on the seven proposals slated for Tuesday in Payson at the Senior Center and Thursday in Pine at the community center. We hope you’ll give the Forest Service an earful about this lopsided, shortsighted list of alternatives.
Only one of the seven proposals makes any attempt to reopen the road down into the canyon from Strawberry. But even that off-kilter proposal would allow only off-road vehicles. And then in what seems like a deliberate affront to the communities on the Tonto National Forest side of the divide — the plan calls for closing the Fossil Springs Trail as well as trails along much of the creek.
None of the seven plans include any of the suggestions made at a hearing here a couple of years ago as to how the Forest Service could reopen FR 708 between Strawberry and the creek. Participants suggested shuttle buses, charging fees to generate money to maintain the road and partnerships with Payson or Gila County to get that road re-opened. Furthermore, Rim Country residents demonstrated their willingness to serve as volunteers to help regulate use of this precious resource.
Even more outrageous: One of the seven proposals would effectively turn over the whole canyon to the Verde Valley-based Yavapai-Apache Tribe — all but barring swimming and shutting down hiking trails in favor of ceremonial and interpretive sites. No one at any of the hearings two years ago breathed a whisper of such a plan.
Mind you, we treasure Fossil Creek and sympathize with the tough choices facing the Forest Service. The creek has become the premier native-fish refuge in the state and could foster the recovery of endangered species like the black hawk, Mexican garter snake and Chiricahua leopard frog. The Forest Service must manage the creek to protect those native species. So we favor limiting the number of visitors, strictly controlling campfires in the canyon and rigorous protection of water quality.
But the Forest Service offered no evidence to support such drastic measures Moreover, the Forest Service seems completely unconcerned with the potential economic impact of its actions on Rim Country’s tourism-dependent economy. Nor does the Forest Service seem to mind locking us out of one of our favorite places. Living on the edge of the canyon, it will take us longer to get to Fossil Creek than some yahoo to drive up from the Valley. Once more, the Forest Service seems determined to treat the residents of Rim Country as problems — not partners.
We hope Rim Country residents will show up in force Tuesday at the Payson Senior Center and on Thursday in the Pine Community Center to insist that the Forest Service restore access to the creek from the Tonto Forest side — even if it takes the form of a fee-charging shuttle bus run by a concessionaire. As it stands, half of the proposed plans would actually reduce access even further.
The Forest Service must balance preservation with public access. With 90,000 visitors last year, we see the need for fees, permits and weekend restrictions during the summer. But most of these proposals would effectively bar the public from these public lands.
They want to slam the door shut.
We need to stick our foot in there now — to keep that door open.