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4/2/2009 3:23:00 PM
Fossil Creek gets 'Wild and Scenic' designation
President Obama signs legislation
All photos courtesy Elias Butler/
After almost six years of work and lobbying, Fossil Creek has been designated as a Wild and Scenic waterway by the federal government.
All photos courtesy Elias Butler/
After almost six years of work and lobbying, Fossil Creek has been designated as a Wild and Scenic waterway by the federal government.

Steve Ayers
Staff Reporter

When Andy Laurenzi was a graduate student at Arizona State University he fell in love with Fossil Creek.

While completing his studies in the late 1980s, he developed an appreciation for the unique desert stream and the dwindling native fish population sill clinging to life in its travertine waters.

Around the same time Laurenzi began his love affair, The Nature Conservancy was seeking ways to protect the state's rapidly disappearing inventory of free flowing streams.

The Nature Conservancy soon zeroed in on Fossil Creek for the same reasons as Laurenzi -- its singularly unique springs, travertine waters, knockout scenery and its native fish.

Both realized they had a monumental challenge, for no other reason than most of Fossil Creek's flow was being channeled through a metal flume and used to power two hydroelectric plants.

It took most of 25 years and a huge cooperative effort among groups interested in the same things as Laurenzi and The Nature Conservancy to make it happen, but in 2005, Arizona Public Service decommissioned the two plants returning the river to its natural channel for the first time in over 100 years.

And like a child getting its own bedroom, the native fish got a place of their own -- free of the exotic species they had been forced to compete with.

But as everyone knew, all the work restoring Fossil Creek was of little value if it could not be protected.

The first hurdle in that challenge was crossed on Monday when, President Barack Obama signed a bill designating Fossil Creek as a Wild and Scenic waterway, a federal designation that adds a substantive layer of protection.

Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed by Congress in 1968 to preserve waterways in a free flowing condition and protect their natural, cultural and recreational value.

The act prohibits federal support for activities that would harm the free-flowing condition, quality or water or other characteristics. The protection extends to a quarter mile each side of the waterway.

It is a big step and something worth celebrating for those who have worked, and continue to work, on protecting Fossil Creek.

"Fossil Creek is the epitome of what cooperation by a lot of different entities can do, and we ought to be looking at that as a model," says Dan Campbell, of The Nature Conservancy.

Sam Frank of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, the group that took the lead in getting the Wild and Scenic designation, agrees it's a great model, but the model is not yet complete.

"The next step is the creation of a comprehensive river management plan, which is required whenever a river is designated as Wild and Scenic," Frank says.

The challenge, he says, will be managing the ecology of the creek, the cultural aspects as they apply to the Yavapai and Apache who view the creek as their homeland, and public recreational usage.

"We have some issues of over-usage, and I agree there has to be some changes in what is going on down there. But whatever we do has to continue as a collaborative effort," Frank says.

Since APS pulled out, the area adjacent to the creek has been subjected to increased usage, threatening to overwhelm the minimal resources available for its protection.

"When we talk of protection we are talking about protecting it from ourselves," says Vincent Randall, tribal elder of the Yavapai-Apache Nation. "Our biggest fear is that we will love it to death."

Frank says he is not inclined to equate the creek's fate to that of eating his own children, but agrees there are challenges ahead.

"The truth is," he says, "there are so many people and only one Fossil Creek."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Article comment by: Tim Frank

Nice! Can't wait to take my best friend.

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