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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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6/13/2013 2:50:00 PM
Coconino Forest closes Bull Pen for summer
With the temporary closure of the Bull Pen, “there are alternative places to go,” says Tony Papa, recreation technician with the Red Rock Ranger District. The Coconino charges $8 for day use of Clear Creek, pictured, which is located off Forest Road 626, about one mile east of the turnoff to the Bull Pen. VVN/Bill Helm
With the temporary closure of the Bull Pen, “there are alternative places to go,” says Tony Papa, recreation technician with the Red Rock Ranger District. The Coconino charges $8 for day use of Clear Creek, pictured, which is located off Forest Road 626, about one mile east of the turnoff to the Bull Pen. VVN/Bill Helm

CAMP VERDE - In baseball, a bullpen provides relief for a weary pitcher.

For Verde Valley residents, the Bull Pen area and its easy access to the west end of Clear Creek provides a break from the summer heat.

The Coconino National Forest recently placed a hold on that relief, as it closed the Bull Pen area due to a large number of trees that pose a hazard to the public, according to a statement by the Forest Service. The closure bans all public entry into the area, including camping, day use, hiking, and access to West Clear Creek via Forest Road 215.

"Over 80 hazard trees have been identified throughout this area," says Jennifer Burns, recreation staff officer with the Red Rock Ranger District of Coconino National Forest. "The Forest Service cannot allow use in an area where there is a known hazard like this. We regret that this situation is occurring just when most people want to visit this beautiful stream. The Forest Service has little choice in a matter regarding a known public safety hazard."

The Bull Pen is located about 12 miles east of Camp Verde. Though it is not the only place with swimming access, area residents are not pleased with the Bull Pen's closure. Renee Bartlett-Webber, chairman of the Cultural Heritage and Recreational Affairs Committee of the Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce, says she understands the Forest Service's position on safety.

"I understand that they take the safety of the public serious," Bartlett-Webber says. "But I would hope that there would be a way we could continue to use the Bull Pen. Not only does the Bull Pen provide a swimming area for locals, but for tourists as well. It can be an economy booster."

Paul Hawk, owner of Thanks a Latte Café in Camp Verde, says he is "always sending people out to the Bull Pen.

"It's our forest," Hawk says. "It belongs to the people. I bet you I could ask a thousand people and nobody would agree with [the closure].

"I understand public safety," Hawk says. "If the problem is there, I wish it could have been prevented before the hottest time of the year. I hope that the Chamber can work with the Coconino National Forest Service to open the Bull Pen again, and as soon as possible."

"If they shut down something like that," Hawk says, "they should get on it ASAP to get it back open. They should already have a plan to get it back open."

According to Burns, the trees that are considered a hazard are located throughout the area that people camp and picnic.

"Some of these trees are several hundred years old and many feet in diameter," Burns says. "These trees provide shade and wildlife habitat and hold the banks of the stream together. These trees are full of nesting birds. The Forest Service does not want to cut all these trees without a study of the situation, to see what other options there may be for providing recreation in the stream side zone while protecting its natural values.

"In addition, the cutting of trees creates a lot of dead branches lying on the ground, which will also have to be dealt with, in order to reduce fire hazard," she says.

"We're trying to keep people safe," says Tony Papa, recreation technician with the Red Rock Ranger District. "There are alternative places to go [to swim]. Clear Creek's day use area is accessible until sundown. And Fossil Creek is also open. The whole area is not closed down."

Coconino National Forest charges $8 for day use of Clear Creek, which is located off Forest Road 626, about one mile east of the turnoff to the Bull Pen.

According to Burns, the Forest Service does not know when the Bull Pen will reopen. But she says that this is not a permanent closure.

"The Forest Service is conducting an assessment of the risk from these hazard trees," Burns says. "There may be other ways to lessen the hazard, such as designating camp sites away from the hazard trees, outside of the flood zone and informing the public about hazards associated with riparian areas. Information will be compiled and options will be looked at for dealing with this situation. Then a decision will be made about how to provide for safe public use in the area in the future.

"The risk assessment and decision process may take several months," she says. "Bull Pen is not likely to open prior to September."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Article comment by: Samantha Stout

Ok, I'd like to know what the FS is using as a definition of 'hazard' in said trees? In this article, there is NO explanation of what 'hazard' there is....this seems to be quite suspicious...just closing down an area without full disclosure is not being held accountable to the people who 'own' that land...the American public!!!
I would like to know what 'hazard' there is!

Posted: Sunday, June 16, 2013
Article comment by: Write your Senator

Frankly, potentially hazardous trees are a reality throughout the forest, including the 5 campgrounds in Oak Creek Canyon, which needless to say remain open.

A complete closure right now is just incredibly bad timing and plain bad judgment. The FS has other options here.

Well we have options too. Time to go above the heads of the Forest Service.

Suggest we all write Senator Flake (who as a native rural Arizonan no doubt knows about Bull Pen), Senator McCain (who will be able to relate to the true reality of "hazard" trees because Oak Creek flows through his back yard), and Representative Gosar, who will be quick to pick up on addressing an overzealous FS.

Your letters and calls will go a long way toward quickly bringing back some common sense to management of our public lands.

Posted: Saturday, June 15, 2013
Article comment by: terry teach

Wonder what the fee will be when the ban is off?

Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013
Article comment by: Pay Your 8 Bucks

Perhaps only the way the article read, but it seems the easiest way to collect day use fees was to close the free Bullpen. Most of us know how to deal with widow makers and old large trees. but then, we are the ones that won't pay 8 bucks for a quick dip in the stream.

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