Most Viewed Stories
Fire, flooding close Yuma-area outdoor spots
Flooding and fire have closed some very popular outdoor recreational spots in the Yuma area.
Betty's Kitchen at Mittry Lake, which is operated by the Yuma Field Office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, will be closed for the next two years to allow for the restoration of the area and to avoid exposing the public to safety hazards caused by the 2011 Laguna Fire.
Meanwhile, some hiking trails at the Yuma East Wetlands Park have been closed until further notice due to flooding caused by the July 13 storm that dropped a record 1.66 inches of rain.
“The Laguna Fire destroyed pretty much all of Betty's Kitchen, including some of the structures,” said Arturo Lopez, acting assistant field manager for recreation and visitors. “The temporary closure is to allow us to restore and rehab the area. Once we are done, we will reopen the area to the public.”
The Laguna Fire burned about 751 acres of riparian habitat along the Colorado River in May 2011. The fire, which was about 15 miles northeast of Yuma, actually started in California and hopped the river into Arizona. Approximately 95 percent of the fire was in Arizona.
The human-caused fire also destroyed a historic abandoned cabin known as Pappin House and portions of Betty's Kitchen Watchable Wildlife Area and Interpretive Trail near Laguna Dam. A large sign at Betty's Kitchen, a ramada, a wooden footbridge, some vegetation and a BLM water truck were burned.
Lopez explained that the temporary closure, which encompasses 15 acres, was necessary to prevent accidents and injuries to visitors while fishing, picnicking, camping or pursuing other activities in the vicinity while work in the area is occurring.
Also there will occasionally be heavy equipment removing debris and other hazards over the next two years as funding and scheduling opportunities allow.
Lopez said Yuma BLM was able to get emergency stabilization and rehabilitation (ESR) money through grants that allowed them to start work in the area last year and eventually replace everything that was lost in the fire.
“When the ESR project got under way, it was a three-year window to restore the site back to its original state. We are about a year and few months into the project and about halfway done with all the work.”
In addition to the removal of debris, work being done at Betty's Kitchen includes replacing the ramada, retiling the bathroom and building new bridges.
“We still have work to do, but we don't feel it will take more than two years,” Lopez said. “That is the beauty of having the temporary closure, you can extend it or terminate it any point.”
While Lopez doubts it will take the entire two years to complete the restoration, he added that it could, depending on next year's budgetary constraints. He said once the work is done, the closure will be lifted.
While East Wetlands trail closures due to flooding isn't what you would expect during the summer in Yuma, it's what area hikers are having to contend with, at least for now.
While the water has mostly receded, said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area which manages the wetlands area, the July 13 thunderstorm caused extremely high water levels on the lower Colorado River, flooding out some areas of the Yuma East Wetlands and Gateway Park.
“Some of the trail areas were heavily inundated, causing erosion and deep ruts. We first need to let the ground dry out and then get some heavy equipment back in there to fix the trails.”
The trails that are closed begin just east of the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge in Gateway Park. The paved, lighted multipurpose trail from Gateway Park to West Wetlands Park and along the East Main Canal is not affected.
While closing the trails is a temporary inconvenience, said Flynn, the summer flooding will have a positive impact on future of the environment.
“Wetlands, of course, are designed to flood. Large areas of the wetlands are fully inundated, which is tremendous for the habitat and wildlife. This is particularly beneficial at the height of Yuma's summer heat, and it's also a bonus that it happened when humans are least likely to be using the trails.”
Flynn said he expected the trails will be ready by the time the weather cools off this fall. He added that the opening of the trails will be announced once all work necessary to ensure safe use by the public is complete.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.