Fossil Creek fracas


A few hours northeast of the 110-degree concrete jungle of Phoenix, Ariz., a powerful, cool creek courses through a lush oasis, creating blue-green swimming pools and dramatic waterfalls for campers and day-hikers.

But lack of funding for a Forest Service management plan has allowed Fossil Creek to become a refuge for drug and alcohol use, weapons, vandalism and graffiti.

Last week the Camp Verde Bugle reported that:

A walk along the four-mile stretch of stream that borders Fossil Creek Road is a stroll through a landscape of fast food wrappers, broken beer bottles, camp fires strewn with charred cans and half burnt garbage, and human waste flagged with bits of toilet paper.

This is particularly disheartening because the stream was only recently restored to its original flow. Fossil Creek’s water had been diverted to a hydroelectric plant for almost a century. Starting in 2005, the dam was torn down in stages to allow recovery of native fish species. (see our stories: D-Day for dam decommissioning approaches and A downside to downing dams?)

According to NAU’s Watershed Resource and Education Program:

The restoration of full flows at Fossil Creek provides one of the best opportunities for stream and riparian restoration in the Southwest where over 90% of wetland and riparian areas have been lost or severely degraded over the last century.

The final piece of the dam was removed last December, delayed to allow the return of the population of the Chiricahua leopard frog. Now fully freed, the creek runs wild, its mineral-rich water rebuilding beautiful travertine pools.

Many people are up in arms about the trashing of such a special area. A stakeholders group of 13 organizations and governmental entities has been meeting to address law enforcement, natural resources and funding issues at Fossil Creek.

In March, the creek was designated a Wild and Scenic River, which requires it to have a comprehensive river management plan within three years, said Red Rock District Ranger Heather Provencio. In the meantime, law enforcement officers and Forest Service employees have stepped up patrols of the area.  Unfortunately, the Wild and Scenic designation, while important, does not provide “people, positions or money,” said Provencio.

Both the Arizona Water Protection Fund and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality have pitched in, giving the Forest Service grants of over $200,000 to help control recent “exponential visitation” by installing portable toilets, designating some temporary campsites and placing boulders to keep people out of riparian areas, said Provencio.