Positive impacts of new Fossil Creek management plan

FOSSIL CREEK, Ariz. (KSAZ) -- Fossil Creek is one of Arizona's many wonders that many know of and love. Over the years, however, it's become so loved that things started to go down hill.

There were over crowding, parking and trash issues, and now, the Coconino County Forest Service is protecting the land, with its restoration project.

"It's just amazing. It's like a little bit of heaven here in Arizona right?" said one woman, identified only as "Judith".

Fossil Creek, which is one of only two wild and scenic rivers in the state, is off the unbeaten path, nestled below the Mogollon Rim. Its natural spring water, picturesque scenery, lush lands and exquisite views draw thousands people to the area, every year.

"As you can see, it's a really beautiful spot," said Marcos Roybal with the Coconino National Forest. "Often, the water is a blue, green color, and people love to come up here, especially on really hot days and take a swim."

"Nice pictures, have fun with family, good times had here," said one man, identified only as "Angel".

All of the water at Fossil Creek consistently stays at around 72°F (~22.2°C), so winter, summer, rain or shine, people can go to Fossil Creek and enjoy it. Although this precious recreational site is meant to be enjoyed, in years past, it wasn't being managed, and things were getting out of control.

"It got to the point where we didn't have enough parking areas along Fossil Creek, and it was creating grid lock along the road," said Roybal. "It was taking more and more Forest Service employees to manage the area. We basically became parking lot managers."

Vegetation was also being destroyed, due to the large crowds and the wildlife was being affected. It became clear at that point that things needed to be managed in a different way.

The Forest Service stepped in, and began restoring the area back to its natural state. Since then, designated parking areas have been added, along with stone steps for better creek access and bathrooms. The most significant change that started in 2016 is people now need a permit to enter any of the nine parking sites.

"When a car pulls up to us, we first ask to see their permits, and then we have a master list. So what we'll do is first verify the permit is a legitimate permit by the numbers, and then we'll make sure they have the proper date and proper area, and from there we'll cross them off from our list," said Noall Hillyard with the Coconino National Forest.

"Every once in a while, people are kind of bummed if they've traveled for a little while and they find out that it is a permit if they don't know that it is a permit system, but for the most part, I think the overall feeling is a good one," said Michelle Chavez with the Coconino National Forest.

"We've been OK with it," said Judith. "We don't have any trouble. We just get online. We learned this before, a month before because we know it gets pretty full."

The permit system has also dramatically decreased the amount of trash coming in and out of area.

"In 2015, so the year before we started the permits, the Forest Service removed -- I think it was around 11,000 lbs of trash from Fossil Creek, and in 2016, the first year of the permit season, that went down to about 5,000 lbs, and last year, the second year of the permit season, it went down to just over 2,000 lbs," said Roybal.

Arizonans have enjoyed this oasis in the desert for generations, and these steps made by the Forest Service will guarantee that trend can continue, and keep protecting what makes the area so special.

Permits cost about $10 per vehicle, and people will have to print their permit before getting there. The permits are not available for purchase on-site.

Online: recreation.gov