On any given summer weekend last year, the Fossil Creek area reached full capacity by 7 a.m., resulting in hundreds of people — many of whom had driven two or more hours to get there — being turned away.
As of March 2, $6 permits became available to the public. Permits are required from May 1 to Oct. 1 in 2016 and from April 1 to Oct. 1 in the following years.
Visitors to Fossil Creek will not be required to obtain a permit and parking pass during other months of the year.
There are approximately 148 designated parking spaces within the permit area, equating to nearly 740 visitors per day within the permit area.
Parking locations include Fossil Springs Trailhead, Waterfall Trailhead, Irving, Tonto Bench, Fossil Creek Bridge, Homestead, Sally May, Purple Mountain and Mazatzal.
“An increase in use and overcrowded conditions at the Fossil Creek and Fossil Springs area during summer months created traffic problems and safety issues for visitors to the area, which is why this reservation system is necessary,” Branton stated via press release.
“Reservations will serve the public better because they will know if the area is full to capacity by whether or not there are permits available online. This means they won’t have to spend time driving long distances to get to Fossil Creek, only to be turned around because the area is full.”
Branton stated in her full decision memo that after full flows were returned to Fossil Creek in 2005, day use increased dramatically: “For example, visitor use in 2006 increased from 20,000 to 73,000 people by 2010.”
The increasing visitation caused many problems for the area, including not only degradation of the land and water quality but also an increase in the number of search-and-rescue operations conducted near Fossil Creek.
“My decision addresses the high volume of search-and-rescue operations that are becoming routine occurrences by providing visitors safety — trip preparedness — and educational materials, particularly for the Fossil Springs area,” Branton stated.
In addition to ensuring increased visitor safety, the reservation system also comes with measures to insure water quality.
“Water quality monitoring will occur within the Fossil Creek permit boundary to ensure the temporary recreational capacity identified in this decision will not result in regular or long-term impairments to water quality or be a threat to health and safety,” Branton stated.
“Measurement sampling will be done monthly during the high use season and will increase in frequency as needed.”