Officials with the Tonto National Forest announced that effective July 2, 2020 the nation’s sixth largest forest would be closed. The closure came after 224,500 acres have burned on the Tonto National Forest in 2020. Increasingly dry and hot weather also affected the decision to close the forest. There is not a date set to reopen, officials will determine a reopening date based on monsoon moisture and a decrease in fire danger across the forest.
Currently the Tonto National Forest is fighting the Polles Fire in Rim Country. The Polles Fire was was caused by a lighting strike on Friday and is burning in the Matazal Wilderness. The communities of Pine and Strawberry are on alert at this time and the Tonto National Bridge State Park is closed. Crews will be working to develop a fire line to protect these communities.
The forest closures and ongoing fires comes as a double whammy for the communities adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. With campgrounds, trails and picnic areas closed over the entire forest, this means fewer visitors to the area and decreased traffic to local stores and restaurants by those who recreate on the forest. There was a noticeable absence of ATV and four-wheel drive groups visiting local restaurants in Superior over the weekend. COVID-19 has increased the demand for recreating outdoors and the forest closure does affect the local economy. The fires could affect the whole Copper Corridor. Many segments of the Arizona Trail are affected by fires across the State of Arizona; the repairs to the trails are not only costly but are also destructive to the scenic beauty of the trail.
The Legends of Superior Trails (LOST) shared a map showing that the LOST trails in Superior which were still open, however the segments on the Tonto National Forest are closed. This includes recreation in Arnett Canyon and the Jungle/Pinal City area.
“These are areas that locals can often find some respite from the heat and enjoy outdoor recreation,” said Mayor Mila Besich.
The Tonto National Forest also has several near-by higher elevation recreation areas such as the Pinal Mountains, Rim Country, and Pleasant Valley (Young) areas that are also affected. Bruzzi Vineyard in Young, Arizona shared with local media outlets that the road closures affected access to the businesses in their community of Young.
“We all want to protect the forest and ensure everyone remains safe,” said James Bruzzi from Bruzzi Vineyard. “The forest closure is an additional hardship for our businesses on top of COVID-19. Our communities near the Tonto provide places for people to enjoy physically distant recreation, now we can’t even offer that.”
The following areas of the Tonto National Forest are open: Roosevelt Lake, Bartlett Lake, Canyon Lake, Saguaro Lake and Lower Salt, Tortilla Flat Restaurant and the Roosevelt Lakeview Mobile Home park.
For a full listing of open areas and the closures: https://bit.ly/tontoclosure2020.