About 300 campers stranded, Catalina State Park closed because of flooding

Hundreds of campers are stuck in Tucson and while floodwaters start to recede, they still can't get their cars across.
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 10:49 AM MST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2023 at 2:55 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13/3TV/CBS 5/AP) - Some 300 campers stranded at a park near Tucson due to flooding from recent rain storms were headed back to dry land Wednesday. Rangers at Catalina State Park were helping campers walk across the receding wash at the park’s entrance. The only road out of the campgrounds is filled with wet sand about 5 feet deep, making it impossible to drive across. “Doesn’t matter if you have four-wheel drive, you are going to get stuck,” said Catalina State Park manager Steve Haas. “You are going to get stuck. It is not the water that is going to stop you. It is about 4 to 5 feet of sand from the bottom of the road that is stopping people.”

Park rangers said they hoped to have all of the campers out by Wednesday evening, and they expect the park to reopen on Thursday. It’s been closed since Monday morning after heavy rains caused the Cañada del Oro wash to overflow.

Jesse Osborn, along with the others, has been at the campgrounds since the holiday weekend. Some have been making the trek across the wash by foot so they can get food and supplies in town. “I talked with a guy whose surgery was canceled and it is tough to schedule those kinds of things. A lot of people’s lives are interrupted but we are in a good spot, said Osborn. “Luckily, this is the only flooding in the park. It would be really bad if there was this obstacle plus a whole bunch of flooding where people are. That is not the case.”

Crews worked on Wednesday to try and dig out the sand and waiting for the water level to go down before letting people drive through. Haas said the campers aren’t in any danger. “They are totally safe on the campgrounds. It is outside the floodplain,” said Haas.

Rangers said the flooding happens regularly, especially during the monsoon. But campgrounds aren’t as busy during the summer. “This past summer, we were closed 20 nights because of this,” said Haas. A wildfire in the area in 2020 also took out a lot of vegetation, making runoff from rainwater more extreme.

Osborn and others are eager to get home but are grateful they are safe. “We have bathrooms over there, we have fresh running water. This is Arizona, it doesn’t get cold. So, we are fine, but we are ready to go,” said Osborn. Arizona State Parks officials said there are plans and a budget to build a bridge over the wash in the coming years so flooding won’t continue to be a common occurrence.

Catalina State Park is located next to the Town of Oro Valley, just north of Tucson.
Catalina State Park is located next to the Town of Oro Valley, just north of Tucson.(AZFamily)