Tonto National Forest officials are reminding recreational visitors to refrain from gathering in large groups in the Lower Sycamore dispersed recreation area for the annual Christmas Tree Burn event which usually occurs in early to mid-January.
The State of Arizona’s COVID-19 restrictions prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people. As a result, areas on the Mesa Ranger District may be temporarily closed to ensure this large, unauthorized gathering does not take place. These closures may disrupt some recreation use over the coming weeks and recreationists should plan accordingly. Please obey all posted signs and do not enter closure areas for your safety.
In the past, thousands of visitors have gathered for this unofficial event to burn their spent Christmas trees while recreating on the Tonto National Forest. Due to a multitude of factors, forest officials ask that all future gatherings for Christmas tree burnings and disposal be discontinued on the Tonto National Forest.
Last year’s gathering brought over 8,000 people to the Lower Sycamore area resulting in numerus injuries, accidents and criminal activities. In addition, the high number of participants in the annual Christmas Tree Burn event results in a large volume of trash, abandoned campfires, injuries, vehicle damage, and natural resource damage throughout the area. The entry and exit to Lower Sycamore becomes congested with traffic presenting issues for medical personnel and law enforcement responding to incidents.
“The amount of people that gather and the amount of resource damage that occurs is simply unmanageable” said Mesa District Ranger Matthew Lane. “The forest will be enforcing the current permitting policy that limits the number of people that can gather in groups on the forest and we encourage the public to comply with the Governor’s mandate to limit groups to 50 people or less.”
The Tonto National Forest requires a permit application to be submitted and approved for all commercial or non-commercial gatherings of over 75 people.
The Lower Sycamore area is currently closed due to flooding concerns from the Bush Fire earlier this year. Other areas of the forest that remain open are still vulnerable to resource damage from large group gatherings and will not be able to accommodate the activities that normally occur at the annual Christmas Tree Burn.
According to Lane, “We encourage visitors to please properly dispose of their spent Christmas trees off-forest. While this event may seem like fun for visitors, there are numerous safety issues that have the potential to harm the public and the first responders called in to help during an emergency.”
As always, recreationists are encouraged to stay on designated trails, Tread Lightly, Pack-it-in Pack-it-out, and recreate responsibly. Visit the Tonto National Forest website for the latest news and alerts: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/tonto/home.