Forest rangers weighing options to reduce response time at Fossil Creek

Posted at 8:08 PM, Sep 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-11 23:09:40-04

Forest rangers are taking action to address the number of difficult emergency rescues out of the Fossil Creek swimming area.  

Up to 80,000 visitors a year splash into the turquoise waters located off State Route 260 between Camp Verde and Strawberry.

Last week ABC15 first told you how a closed forest road nearby forced Fossil Creek visitors into agonizing waits for emergency rescues. First responders in Gila and Yavapai counties say they made nearly 500 rescues in 2015 and 2016. Each rescue can take four to six hours.

The nearest fire station is in Strawberry, but paramedics and rescuers crews from there must hike down a steep four mile trail and wheel patients back up. More critical patients are airlifted out of the creek area. Emergency crews used to drive down Forest Road 708 for many rescues, but boulders and washouts forced its closure on the east side of the creek. The 14-mile dirt road to Camp Verde can take up to an hour to drive down. 

"I definitely understand the burden that places on responders," said Marcos Roybal, the Fossil Creek Project Leader for the Coconino National Forest.

Roybal tells ABC15, rangers are drafting a new management plan for the Fossil Creek area, and it includes a proposal to repair and reopen FR 708 to emergency vehicles and maybe the public.

Discussions for the plan started in 2009, and it should be finalized in 2018 after a public comment period.  

"We would be looking at what it would take to fix that road, but the improvements are so substantial that it would likely cost several million dollars initially," Roybal said.

In addition to financial concerns, the forest service says any project's impact to the creek must be considered because it's designated a National Wild and Scenic River.

"It is a certain amount of bureaucracy," Roybal said. "The intent behind it is to ensure we are accounting for all the resource considerations and also the socio-cultural considerations unique to an area like this."

Rangers say they are also taking proactive safety efforts, including issuing warnings about dangers and requiring permits to visit the creek. They say that's decreased the number of rescues by 50 percent.