Arizona: Future of Fossil Creek

STRAWBERRY – The century-old dam is gone, reduced to chunks of
concrete tagged for burial. Water, once diverted to produce power,
gushes down the streambed, busily building new travertine pools. The
native fish are reclaiming their habitat, helped by the forced removal
of trout and other aquatic interlopers. Fossil Creek is growing more
like its old, wild self every day, shaking off a century of servitude
to the state’s power grid. But the transformation comes with a cost,
one that has become clearer as evidence of the hydroelectric dam is
erased. Like any river or lake in the desert, Fossil Creek has become
a magnet for visitors seeking relief from the hot city.

Its restoration has government and non-profit groups scrambling to protect
one of the state’s most unusual waterways and give it a rare second
chance.The creek cuts through two national forests as it meanders 17
miles from the springs just below the Mogollon Rim to the Verde River
near Camp Verde, a path that led to the current predicament. The U.S.
Forest Service, already stretched thin, ran out of money to complete
the environmental studies needed to write a management plan, and it
lacked money to patrol the area or install toilets or campsites. In
the meantime, lured by running water, stunning scenery and easy drives
from Phoenix and Flagstaff, people discovered Fossil Creek. Although
visitor counts aren’t available, the effects of heavy use are obvious.
Stream banks have eroded. Makeshift campsites have flattened
vegetation.

The area is strewn with litter after busy weekends.
Without public restrooms, visitors improvise, leaving waste and tissue
products along the creek, threatening water quality. One of the
questions the Forest Service will answer as it begins its
environmental assessment is how many people can visit the area without
damaging the natural resources. The creek’s remote location imposes
its own limits. Some of the most scenic sites require long, strenuous
hikes, and several roads will close when APS leaves for good in 2010.
“Because this is a remote location, we rely on primitive skills and
etiquette, things like ‘Leave no trace,’ and ‘Pack it in, pack it
out,’ ” said Janie Agyagos, a biologist for Coconino National Forest.
“If we have our capacity set at a low enough level, then ‘Leave no
trace’ will work. Whether we can enforce that capacity is where some
of us disagree.” During the two-year study period, the Forest Service
wants to install portable toilets and has secured money to hire patrol
rangers during high-use months, typically during the spring and
summer. Volunteers from Sedona-based Friends of the Forest help clean
up trash, and other private groups, such as the Arizona Riparian
Council, have pledged money and other help. But if the final study
points toward a more primitive management strategy, the Forest Service
would likely curtail some services. “One way is to set a low capacity,
keep it more like a wilderness experience,” she said. “We don’t want
to get the recreationists used to having us clean up after them.”
http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2008/12/27/20081227rivers-fossil.html

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