Arizona lawmaker asks Sen. Mark Kelly to push for road repairs in area with high number of rescues

Feb 19, 2024, 11:21 AM | Updated: Feb 20, 2024, 5:09 pm

Fossil Creek need fixed roads to make thousands of rescues easier...

David Cook, right, wants Sen. Mark Kelly to intervene in an issue regarding Fossil Creek, which is in Gila County. ( photo/Ballotopedia photo)

( photo/Ballotopedia photo)

PHOENIX — An Arizona state representative wants U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly to intervene in a “prolonged public safety crisis” in Gila County.

Arizona Rep. David Cook sent Kelly a letter last week asking for help in Fossil Creek, which is popular with hikers and campers. A 14-mile dirt road winds around the creek, which is accessible by Route 260 near Camp Verde. The idyllic spot has mountains, valleys and tree canopies.

However, visitors often require rescues, which takes a ton of time, effort and danger — for both people being rescued and people doing the rescuing, Cook said.

“Between 2015 and 2022, over 800 individuals required rescue or medical attention, with seven tragic fatalities,” Cook’s letter said. “Recent data from 2023 indicates an additional 23 missions in Gila County, extracting 42 individuals.”

Decades-old closures of hydroelectric plants and “associated roads” have made rescue missions take hours longer than they used to, Cook said. Before the closures, rescues took 90 minutes. Now, it takes five to seven hours and more than a dozen rescuers to save victims.

The delay “significantly diminishes” their survival rates, Cook said.

What does David Cook want Mark Kelly to do for Fossil Creek

Cook already has a solution in mind: Repair the eroded stretches of road. That way, search and rescue personnel can access Fossil Creek more quickly.

“The Yavapai Apache Nation supports this proposal,” Cook said. “Despite initial approval from former Chairman Jon Huey in 2021, progress on the project was halted by the Backbone Fire in July 2022.”

The devastating Backbone Fire started near Payson in June 2021. It burned 41,924 acres, according to Camp Verde’s website. It triggered temporary closures in the Coconino and Tonto National Forests due to downed power lines, road damage and flooding after the fire.

Huey has since left office and Tanya Lewis has taken over the role of chairwoman for the Yavapai Apache Nation. She has rejected attempts to repair the eroded roads, Cook said.

“I implore you to insist on the urgent improvement of these roads to enable swift rescue agency access, thereby eliminating this prolonged public safety crisis,” his letter to Kelly said.

Cook added that Gila County officials are prepared to start the roadwork. This solution will solve rescuers’ safety concerns and the Yavapai Apache Nation’s need to access the Upper Springs area for prayers and ceremonies, he added.

“I implore you to insist on the urgent improvement of these roads to enable swift rescue agency access,” Cook said. “I believe that your involvement can make a significant difference in safeguarding the lives of the residents and visitors in Gila County.”

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Arizona lawmaker asks Sen. Mark Kelly to push for road repairs in area with high number of rescues