Fossil Creek is one of the most unique and ecologically diverse riparian areas in the Southwest. Flowing from a complex of mineral springs in the rugged mountains of central Arizona, the stream is known for its travertine pools and stunning aquamarine water. In an otherwise arid landscape, it is a lush oasis, providing habitat for rare and imperiled native fish, beavers, otters, leopard frogs, bats and an extraordinary array of bird species. For over a century this gem of a stream was dewatered by a hydroelectric project that left Fossil Creek almost totally dry. But extensive restoration efforts, beginning with the removal of invasive species in 2004, slowly brought the creek back to life. In 2005 the diversion dam was decomissioned, returning healthy flows to the river. Today Fossil Creek is considered the most successful river recovery project in the Southwest, and it is one of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in all of Arizona. Thanks to efforts by Arizona Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service and others, the stream is also now the longest river reach in Arizona containing an assemblage of native fish completely free of non-native species.
Within this context, Western Rivers Conservancy conserved the last unprotected parcel of land inside the Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic River corridor. Although at 19 acres the property is relatively small, the impact of the project will be significant. Conservation of this property will benefit the creek’s unique fish and wildlife, protect an outstanding scenic area and archeological resources, and improve efforts by the Coconino National Forest to manage an increasing number of people visiting the creek.
Fossil Creek supports an incredible diversity of wildlife. More than 80 special-status species inhabit the area. Fifteen bat species occur in the river corridor, as do numerous bird species, including black hawks, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, Bell’s vireos, Lucy’s warblers and verdins. Following a decade of recovery work, the stream once again supports nine native fish species, including spikedace, loach minnow, Gila topminnow (all endangered), speckled dace and Sonora sucker. Along with the stream’s unique mineral formations, the presence of these fish gives the creek national significance.
Fossil Creek also contains evidence of thousands of years of human habitation, including pit house villages, pueblo sites, rock art sites and more. Today, as more and more people rediscover Fossil Creek, WRC’s efforts will help Coconino National Forest ensure public enjoyment while minimizing impact on this fragile desert river ecosystem.