Oak Creek Canyon reopens after closure due to fire

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Gates are now unlocked and tape has been taken down in much of northern Arizona's Oak Creek Canyon with the reopening of many areas that were closed nearly three months because of a major wildfire.

That's good news for visitors and businesses alike, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

The threat of flooding prompted the Forest Service to close its land within the canyon in July, but most developed recreation sites, vehicle pullouts, swimming holes and hiking trails reopened last week.

The heaviest monsoon rains skirted the area during late summer, so there was little flooding.

Operators of businesses serving visitors are pleased to have the canyon reopened.

"It's starting to feel like a normal fall," said Frank Garrison, owner of The Butterfly Garden Inn and a critic of the closure.

Much of the canyon located between Sedona and Flagstaff wasn't scarred by the nearly 33-square-mile Slide Fire, but thousands of acres inside the canyon and above its rims were.

"There was a time when a lot of us in Sedona were weeping thinking it was lost," said Web Middleton, a Sedona photographer.

Middleton recently prowled a trail in the canyon to capture the forest as it starts to regrow. Ferns and grasses are springing up around blackened tree trunks, while other frees appear untouched by fire.

"It's remarkable how intact it is," Middleton said.

Recovery efforts included targeted seeding in mulching in severely burned areas.

It'll take about three areas for grass and shrubs in areas that weren't mulched and seeded to begin functioning like a normal ecosystem, said Rory Steinke, assistant team leader for the response effort.

It'll take decades longer for the trees to start to recover, Steinke said.

While the popular West Fork trail was relatively unharmed, the A.B. Young trail will be closed for two or three years for completion of repairs, Steinke said.

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