Cook Pushes For Reopening Of Fire Damaged Apache Trail

Tonto National Monument during the Woodbury Fire in August 2019. [Photo courtesy National Park Service, USA]

Arizona State Rep. David Cook is advocating for the swift reopening of the fire and flood damaged Apache Trail.

Cook, Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, submitted comments to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) in strong support of reopening, as quickly as possible.

The Woodbury Fire was the fifth largest wildfire in Arizona state history and burned more than 100,000 acres in the Superstition Wilderness, immediately east and uphill of SR-88. Because of concerns of deadly mudslides and flash flooding across the roadway that might result because the human-caused fire destroyed the vegetation that helps prevent these dangers, the Arizona Department of Transportation indefinitely closed the roadway several miles east of Tortilla Flat to just west of the Apache Lake turnoff.

ADOT has been soliciting public input on a study to determine the best approach for reopening SR 88 to vehicles while ensuring safety against ongoing hazards, prompting Cook to send a letter to ADOT Director Jennifer Toth expressing his support and stressing the urgency for swiftly reopening the historic roadway, which is vital for area residents, visitors, and the local economy.

Cook’s letter reads:

I wish to express my concern over the extended closure of SR 88 (Apache Trail) from Fish Creek Hill Overlook/Rest Area (milepost 222) to milepost 229, that has been in effect for four years now. This closure has severely damaged businesses and tourism in the area, and something needs to be done sooner rather than later.

In 2019, the 123,832-acre Woodbury Fire burned through the Superstition Mountains. Then, on September 23, 2019, Tropical Storm Lorena pummeled the region with up to 6 inches of water. Extensive roadway damage occurred, and rock debris obstructed the roadway following this severe flooding event. As a result, a 7-mile, unpaved section of SR 88 from milepost 222 to milepost 229 near Reavis Trailhead Road remain closed for public safety reasons.

SR 88 provides access to recreational activities beloved by Arizonans and visitors alike, such as Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, Theodore Roosevelt Lake, Tonto National Monument, and a wealth of trailheads, scenic vistas, and shoreline areas in the Tonto National Forest. The route was designated as Arizona’s first Historic Road and remains a scenic roadway to this day. The Arizona State Historic Preservation Office also recognized the route’s significance through an Arizona State Register of Historic Places designation. Extensive damage to the roadway following the Woodbury Fire, Tropical Storm Lorena, and other extreme weather events has rendered this historic route inaccessible to the public.

The closed section of SR 88 has received extensive public support and media attention. I appreciate the work that advocates for the route’s reopening, such as Apache Trail businesses, motorized access enthusiasts, and elected officials, have done. These diverse groups have been working alongside the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to build support for SR 88 improvements, but something must be done to get this finished soon.

Earlier this year, I wrote to the United States Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, to express my support of ADOT’s request for a discretionary PROTECT Planning grant to reopen SR 88. This funding will go a long way to opening this portion of the highway, but there is more that we need to do.

As Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, I want to express my willingness to do what is necessary to finish this project and get the highway open to the public as soon as possible. It is critical for the local area and the state to complete this project for the benefit of all Arizonans.

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