With winter approaching and much of northern Arizona already having experienced its first snow, the city and county are again faced with the annual issue of managing the throngs of tourists snow can attract.
Coconino County’s two-part winter recreation task force has proposed various strategies to address winter challenges. The task force is comprised of both community members and representatives from member agencies, like the county, city, Department of Public Safety and the County Sheriff’s Office.
“We have collectively spent thousands of hours working to bring groups together, engage conversations with the objective of coming up with a balanced and comprehensive approach to managing peak winter recreation,” County Board of Supervisors chairman Art Babbott said.
And the issue is not an easy one to solve, Babbott said, with each winter bringing a new set of challenges.
In an attempt to help solve some of those issues, this year the winter recreation task force is rolling out a new snowplay-focused visitors map.
The map contains information on where in and around town visitors can take part in snowplay and other winter-related activities and addresses a few of the issues that have popped up over the years, said Flagstaff Visitor Bureau spokesperson Lori Pappas.
These include information on how to be prepared for winter weather and reminders to follow leave-no-trace ethics by not leaving cracked and broken sleds in the woods and in snowplay areas.
The hope, Pappas said, is that visitors can “enjoy winter responsibly.”
The maps will be available at the Flagstaff Visitor Center and on the websites of partner agencies.
In past years, visitors have flocked to areas of the national forest north of Flagstaff along Highway 180, parking along the side of the road to sled in the woods.
Although sledding is not prohibited in the national forest, parking on the side of 180 is. As such, the snowplay map and various member agencies are asking visitors to find other places to play in the snow.
DPS spokesperson James Carne said their officers will also be patrolling 180 and available to respond to any parking complaints or traffic issues along the US 180 corridor west of Flagstaff.
“Parking along US 180 is not only unsafe, but illegal within ADOT’s right of way. No parking signs are posted along US 180 warning motorists not to park or stop along the roadway unless it is an emergency,” Carne said in an email. “This also includes any controlled access highways such as I-40 and I-17.”
This winter will see the return of several features from the past, including the free Mountain Express shuttle services to the Snowbowl ski resort and winter parking ordinance, as well as several new programs, like a volunteer-based winter snowplay steward program to help reduce snowplay-generated litter.
Mountain Express will be offering all-day 30-minute service on holidays and all-day 60-minute service during other weekends throughout the winter season. The winter parking ordinance is again in effect from Nov. 1 to Apr. 1 and will be enforced by citation of at least $200 in fines and/or towing.
Earlier this year, snowmaking at the Flagstaff Snow Park was approved by the county supervisors, and is scheduled to begin Dec. 15.
By creating snow in this designated snowplay area, Babbott said, they hope to reduce traffic and illegal parking along the Highway 180/Fort Valley Road Corridor.
“The benefit of having a snowplay area south of town is clear and well understood,” Babbott said. “The board’s decision to allow for artificial snow to be made there was in part a recognition of the need for predictability for that operation to help mitigate and complement these other efforts around winter recreation.”
“We are an economy and community that is built on visitation, built on public lands, accessibility, and how we balance that component with protection of neighborhoods and communities and values has always been and will always be a challenge,” Babbott said.