Rim Country residents have until Tuesday, Sept. 10 to offer comments on the Coconino National Forest’s plans to sharply limit access to Fossil Creek, especially from Rim Country.
At an open meeting in Payson Tuesday evening, about 30 residents discovered that few of the local comments made three years ago made it into the seven “concepts” now under consideration to protect the “outstandingly remarkable” qualities of the officially designated wild and scenic river. Those values include scenery, recreation, geology, fish, wildlife, historical, cultural and other values.
Fossil Creek encompasses all six of those values, said Beth Dykstra of the Coconino Forest Service
Dykstra will head up the task force deciding what to do with Fossil Creek, one of only two wild and scenic rivers in Arizona.
“We’re trying to be different,” Dykstra told the antagonistic audience.
But the hopping mad Rim Country residents sought to understand why the Forest Service had ignored what they said three years ago. Only one of the plans would reopen Fossil Creek Road outside of Strawberry — and that would only be to off-road vehicles. Several of the proposals would not only leave the road closed, but would shut down the popular Fossil Creek trail.
Businesses owners in the audience told Dykstra their businesses has plunged since the Forest Service closed the road on the Strawberry side.
Local nature enthusiasts complained about plans to close even the arduous Fossil Creek trail.
Dykstra said the Forest Service must work within the constraints of its mission and the mandates of the Wild and Scenic River Act, which requires the agency to “protect and enhance the river’s free flowing condition, water quality and ORVs.”
“We have to think outside the box,” she said of any proposed solution.
One thing audience members agreed on — something has to be done about the roughly 90,000 visitors who come every year to the pristine waterway. Many abuse the stream, leaving waste, litter and smoldering illegal fires.
During the presentation, Dykstra urged audience members to write down suggestions on a huge flip chart in the meeting room or to fill out a form to leave with the Forest Service personnel. The Forest Service went through the same process more than two years ago. At that meeting in Payson, the overwhelming majority of people urged the Forest Service to preserve access from Rim Country, while supporting permits, a shuttle bus service and other restrictions to protect the stream. The seven “concepts” released showed no trace of those previous comments.
Three years ago — and again this week — Rim Country residents pleaded for continued access. Some advocated shuttle buses. Some suggested the Forest Service partner with Gila County to maintain the road. Some even suggested gondolas to the bottom. Virtually everyone supported protecting the water quality and wildlife in and along the stream, but almost no one spoke in support of the alternatives presented.
The one exception being support for Concept E offered by Rim Country off-road groups. This option would provide permits for off-road vehicle owners to go down the steep, narrow Fossil Creek Road. However, the plan would also shut down the Fossil Creek Trail.
Despite the years-long delay in coming up with the seven concepts, the Forest Service has not yet analyzed any of the plans in terms of cost, visitor days, impact on water quality or economic impact on the surrounding communities.
Dykstra said the public has until Tuesday, Sept. 10 to make comments.
The Forest Service will hold another open house in Pine on Thursday, Sept. 5 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Senior Center in Pine, 3916 N. Highway 87.
Concerned citizens may leave comments at that time, or hand deliver comments to the Coconino National Forest supervisor’s office (1824 S. Thompson St. Flagstaff, AZ 86001, Attn: Fossil Creek CRMP ID Team) or e-mail comments to email@example.com.
For questions on the hearings, please contact Jean Szymanski, Public Affairs Office, Forest Service – Southwestern Region at (505) 842-3325.
To find our more information on the project, including past actions and suggestions, please view these Web sites: Fossil Creek Comprehensive River Management Plan or 7 Concepts of Discussion.