Fossil Creek is an eco-tourism catalyst, which could yield significant benefits to many Arizona Rim Country communities, if allowed to open for broad public use under the watchful eye of committed stewards.
Only a few years ago, the state of Arizona was going to close the Tonto Natural Bridge for lack of funding. A cadre of local citizens, in conjunction with state officials, devised a plan to keep the bridge operating. This partnership secured the continued viability of the Tonto Natural Bridge. Further, it solidified certain economic development benefits for the nearby communities.
Perhaps consideration can be given to the creation of a similar, regional arrangement among the various Fossil Creek stakeholders. This would necessitate participation by Gila County and its affected communities of Payson, Pine, and Strawberry, as well as Coconino County, Camp Verde, the state of Arizona and the U.S. Forest Service.
Clearly, Fossil Creek possesses unmeasured eco-tourism opportunities that range from archaeology and bird watching to recreation and day uses. If a balance can be achieved between stewardship and the promotion of an asset to stimulate regional economic development, then all parties will benefit. But, if there is no serious consideration given to key stakeholder input, and only unilateral decisions are implemented, then the potential regional benefit, to be derived from the Fossil Creek asset, will not be realized.
Peter A. Plante