Coronado National Forest - Recreation Roundup Nov 2020

Coronado National Forest – Recreation RoundUp for November 2020

 

This has been an eventful year for outdoor recreation on the Coronado National Forest.  We want to provide you with regular communication about our recent work and upcoming projects.

 

Seasonal Change and Re-openings

During 2020, we’ve seen extremely robust visitation at many locations across the Coronado National Forest as we all cope with record heat and the repercussions of Covid-19.  We are proud that public lands and forests have provided a respite during a challenging year.  November marks a transition in the recreation seasons from high elevation to low. Under our revised November closure order, five campgrounds reopened to the public – Cochise Stronghold; Stewart, Sunny Flat in Cave Creek Canyon; and Molino Basin and Gordon Hirabayashi along the Catalina Highway.  Our awesome cabins are open on the weekends, too…

 

Half Moon Ranch in Cochise Stronghold

 

Sabino Canyon is also seeing a resumption of activities. The Sabino Canyon Crawler is now operating under a set of operational health precautions and the visitor information center, operated by the Public Lands Interpretive Center, is offering services outdoors Thursday through Monday. Expect a busy winter and spring season, especially at low elevation sites. Kudos to all of our partners, volunteers and field staff who make this possible.  Managing recreation on public lands is truly a team sport.

 

Fee Changes and Sustainable Recreation

The fee changes the Coronado implemented early in 2020 are helping us become more sustainable and we are putting your fees to work.  Through multiple public forums and conversations during the Restructuring Developed Recreation effort, we heard loud and clear that the public and our partners wanted to keep sites open and under USFS operation.  Even in a year with Covid and fire closures, our recreation fee collections for FY20 were the highest in the past 5 years.  September 2020 for example was up 165% from the five year average and places like Parker Canyon Lake saw record use during the summer. Funds are being used for our daily operational needs (restroom servicing, trash collection) and to help address long-term operations and maintenance costs through projects like replacing fire grills and picnic tables.  Look out for more stories on how your fees are helping us protect the resource and enhance the visitor experience.

 

Volunteers and partnerships are a major bright spot. The Coronado recorded the most contributed volunteers hours and partnership contributions in Region 3 (Arizona and New Mexico) in our last fiscal year, a contribution valued at over $4.3 million! We are working on ways to recognize these incredible contributions.

 

Bighorn Fire Recovery

There’s been a lot of interest in the re-opening of the Santa Catalina trail system and recreation sites after the Bighorn Fire. First, the good news: the fire spared most developed recreation facilities and vistas along Catalina Highway. With the exception of Rose Canyon campground, where the burn encroached on one of the loops, most of the sites emerged unscathed thanks to the tireless work of the wildland firefighters.

 

The more challenging news is that the trail system, especially on the north side of the mountains, was heavily impacted. Over 120 miles of trails were burned by the Bighorn Fire and most of them remain closed. Approximately 64 of which were either high or moderate severity including portions of the Arizona National Scenic Trail and the ANST wilderness bypass. Popular trails such a Wilderness of Rocks, Pima Canyon and the Green Mountain Trail are within the burn area boundary but are to various degrees.  While some of have seen moderate and even beneficial ecological impacts, trails like Canada del Oro and Red Ridge have been very heavily damaged.  The major public safety issues are related to hazard trees and the ongoing risk of erosion and debris flows. Some trails, such as Butterfly Trail, have hundreds of nearby standing dead trees, or trees that have fallen across the trail.  Other trails, like Romero Canyon, put potential visitors in the path of serious flood risk. Until hazards on the highest risk trails are addressed, these trails simply aren’t safe for trail users or volunteers for now.  We have, however, reached out to all of our trail organization partners and asked them to identify which trail projects outside the highest risk areas that might be of interest.

 

To be frank, recovery will take years and things will never be quite the way we remember them. However, are working diligently to improve the situation and have had multiple certified sawyers out on trails helping to clear them, preparing the way for youth crews or volunteers.  The long-running fire season in the West, as you might imagine, has limited the supply of certified sawyers. But our work continues – we have made an investment in young adult crews with the Arizona Conservation Corps, who will be spending nine weeks this winter and spring working to reopen trails.  We also welcome organizations who want to contribute time and energy to reach out and find ways to partner with us.

 

As for the current status, trails outside the burn scar have also been reopened. The fire closure was extended and modified recently, with a number of a high elevation trails like Marshall Gulch, Incinerator Ridge, and portions of the Green Mountain Trail reopened to the public.  In total, we have reopened over 90 miles of trail. The current order runs until May 2021, but will continually be reevaluated.  Head to our Frequently Asked Questions page for more.

 

Great American Outdoors Act

The Great American Outdoors Act, which passed this summer, is a tremendous opportunity for the US Forest Service; it will bring $285 million to the agency each year for five years to address important deferred maintenance needs related to recreation sites, roads, water systems and other infrastructure.  You can see the projects USFS has announced at the link above.  It’s exciting to see projects the forest and partner worked to plan for years like the Marshall Gulch Trailhead find a funding source.

 

Tackling our Trails Backlog

Another area of emphasis for us in the coming year is working to improve our 1,100+ mile trail system, nearly 60% of which is in wilderness. A long stretch of Arizona Conservation Corps crews working in high priority areas across the Forest begins this month. Support is also being provided for a long-awaited Temporal Gulch reroute project on the Arizona National Scenic Trail that will take users off open roads and onto scenic, safe singletrack. Trails in the Chiricahuas, Santa Ritas, Galiuros and Huachucas are also receiving attention this year from youth crews and volunteers.  A big thanks to all our trail partners!

 

Lastly, along with our partners at Wild Arizona (formerly Arizona Wilderness Coalition) we are working to identify a safe launch date for a new “Sky Islands Trail Stewards” program, a training scheduled for last April that was a casualty of the pandemic.  No doubt we’ll be working with many partners including Southeastern Arizona Outdoors to spread the word about these training and volunteer opportunities as they come online.

 

 

Coronado Access Initiative

The Coronado faces one of the most challenging access situations in the nation and a long track record of thinking creatively to solve it. Roughly one third of the Forest lacks legal or physical access, meaning that the public can’t find a way to enter these places for hiking, hunting, fishing or any other dispersed recreation activity.  Working with a coalition of partners, we will be working to identify locations where access can be legally secured or provided through a changes in the road system, like the Chiricahua Access Project.

 

Special Use Permit Applications

Those looking to conduct activities on the Forest – including commercial activities such as filming or guiding, and non-commercial uses such as organized events or gatherings, and recreation residences – have kept our Special Uses Program busy. Did you know the Coronado has over 850 active permits? If you want think you may want to apply for a permit or authorization, start here for additional information.

 

New Staff

We are also welcoming new recreation staff to the Coronado, including myself.  As Staff Officer, I help guide the recreation, heritage, special uses, wilderness and lands program out of the Supervisor’s Office.  I can be reached at adam.milnor@usda.gov or at 520-388-8422.  I’ve worked with many of you in previous roles with the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program and the Bureau of Land Management, Gila District; I look forward to future success together.

 

The Santa Catalina District also has new faces.  Mena Showman (mena.showman@usda.gov) started as the District Recreation Staff in October 2020.  Imena Ezell (Imena.ezell@usda.gov) joined as the Partnership Coordinator and Visitor Center Manager over the summer.  You can find more contact information or leave feedback for us on our website.





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