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Oak Creek Canyon businesses worry about closures

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SEDONA, Ariz. (AP) — As the impending summer closure of tens of thousands of acres of national forest looms, northern Arizona business owners are hoping to still attract visitors.

The U.S. Forest Service announced this week that all public recreation areas and national forest lands in Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona, will close July 7, the Arizona Daily Sun reported (http://bit.ly/Us1sNa).

According to the National Weather Service office in Flagstaff, that is when monsoon season is expected to begin across northern Arizona.

Last month's 31-square-mile Slide Fire has made areas around Oak Creek Canyon high-risk flood zones. Forest officials say the measures are needed to protect people from any severe flooding. According to an expert analysis conducted after the fire, storms could lead to heavy runoff of water, ash and debris into the canyon because of the burned soil. The flooding danger also affects surrounding neighborhoods including Pine Flats and West Fork.

The number of closures was an unprecedented move. But Red Rock District Ranger Nicole Branton said it was the best way to ensure public safety.

"People have this way of not staying where we tell them to," Branton said. "People get into these sites and disperse."

Hotel and restaurant operators say they are hoping to do business despite some customers already canceling plans. Nichole Garrison, who owns the Butterfly Garden Inn in Oak Creek with her husband, said she is getting cancellation calls almost nonstop. The inn is situated in the upper canyon, where recreation areas have been closed since the fire.

Garrison said the move to close the land seemed like a rash decision.

"They seem to be in a panic about the pending doom. There's no saying how it will affect the canyon," she said. "I know they were running out of time and they had to make a quick decision, but I don't think it's the right one."

Daniel Garland, the owner of Indian Gardens market, said he understood the Forest Service wanting to be cautious — even if it meant a threat to his business.

"It's a lot of unknowns," Garland said. "It's the first time we've ever run into a scenario like this. (We're) just trying to approach it with as much optimism as we can, but we know it's definitely not going to improve business."

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Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/

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