|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Wednesday, 11 May 2011 00:00|
The Town of Camp Verde is taking a careful approach with the U.S. Forest Service’s efforts to manage nearby Fossil Creek.
The creek is a natural wonder in a desert where flowing water is an exception and not the rule.
For nearly a century, the waters of the creek generated hydroelectric power that in turn helped fuel the efforts of earlier settlers and the booming mining industry after the turn of the 20th century.
Earlier in the past decade, power plant owner APS decided it was time to decommission the Childs and Irving hydroelectric plants. With no more need for power generation, the creek’s water flows were soon restored to their natural levels.
The creek is fragile, but its beauty and water, which stays at a constant temperature, attract thousands of visitors a year.
While many of those visitors are conscientious of the creek’s unique riparian environment, some are not, leaving behind trash and destroying native plant life.
The Coconino and Tonto national forests, which share management responsibilities for the creek, have struggled to find a balance between their mandate to protect public land and allowing public access.
The agencies have been working on creating a comprehensive management plan designed to direct how the creek is handled in the future.
Not only have the plan’s authors been seeking input from the general public, they have reached out to local governments throughout the region to find out what the area’s elected leaders think.
Last week, the Camp Verde Town Council voted to send a letter to the Forest Service which Town Manager Russ Martin said takes “a fairly generic stance on the issue at this time.”
Martin said that the Yavapai-Apache Nation had already submitted a rather extensive resolution on the issue which touched on the need to protect the creek because of the significant cultural significance of the area to the Native Americans, many of whom used the creek’s water in religious ceremonies.
The town recognizes that cultural connection to its Indian neighbors in its own letter to the Forest Service, while also recognizing the value of the property and its importance as a habitat for wildlife and fish.
Martin said it was important, however, to keep the town’s voice recognized separately from the Yavapai-Apache Nation, because the town could have different perspectives.
At the same time, Martin said the town had to acknowledge the economic significance of Fossil Creek before the Forest Service, because the creek attracts visitors from all over who also stop in the town’s stores on their way there and back.
“If they restrict access in anyway, it could have a negative impact on our business — on both ends of the road,” Martin said.
Martin also said that many of the problems the creek is experiencing could have potentially been avoided if the rules the Forest Service already has in place were able to be more effectively enforced.
“I think it’s unfortunate to have to go through a lot of government planning when the abuse could have been curtailed in the first place,” Martin said.
Councilwoman Jackie Baker said that while there are rules in place, there’s a lack of resources available to get the job done the way the Forest Service would like.
“The Forest Service, like all of us, is strained with amounts of money to carry out enforcement,” Baker said, adding that the Forest Service was doing what it could.
“They are trying to control it,” Councilwoman Carol German said. “They do plan on ramping up enforcement, and they are trying to protect the area.”
German compared the situation to how things used to be at Slide Rock State Park when it was threatened by visitors, forcing Arizona State Parks to place more restrictions on access.
Mayor Bob Burnside wanted to hold off on sending the letter at first, in order to give more residents time to look at the contents of the letter, but voted to send it after the council realized the matter was time sensitive.
“This is a fairly special place in the world,” Martin said. “We do need to take care of it.”
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