Arizona Pilots Join Hands with USFS in Preserving the Grapevine Airstrip
Mark Spencer, Recreational Aviation Foundation, Arizona Liaison
In the words of one volunteer, “Do you realize we made history this weekend?” I honestly had not thought about it that way. Grapevine was officially closed by USFS Special Order 12-157 on June 27th, 1997, and not only did Arizona pilots lose an incredible aviation asset, but every AZ citizen did. Government agencies and search & rescue personnel were exempt from this closure order, but with no budgets to take care of Grapevine, it slowly faded in usefulness for even these activities. Who would have ever thoughtthat we’d see an SR22 land at Grapevine again, but that is exactly what we saw as volunteer Jeff Baber, of Suncountry Flight Services, asked one of his pilots to deliver 10 gallons of paint for the segmented circle on Sunday afternoon.
Had the 35 volunteers not showed up Saturday morning, a dozen staying overnight, and another dozen showing up on Sunday, this would not have been possible!
By 9:00AM Saturday morning chainsaws were buzzing, clippers were clipping, and just about everyone was bleeding from the thorns of the roughly 50 Mesquite, Ironwood and Palo Verde trees removed from within 10 feet of the 40 foot asphalt airstrip. Two pilots also assisted the willing and helpful District Ranger, (DR) Jardine in making repairs to the perimeter fencing, while others prepared to feed the crews. It was truly amazing looking down the 3800’ airstrip with the “Safford Team,” as we called them, starting at the south end and another team working from the north end. Both teams met at mid-field about noon, leaving only tidy mounds of tree branches every 100 feet for the USFS to burn at a later date. Sunday crews cleared parking areas, cleaned up leftover debris and painted the segmented circle.
This event was the culmination of nearly a year of discussions between the RAF and the USFS, and the ready hands of the APA in planning, organizing the troops, food, tools, and getting the word out. I don’t have space here to explain the many details, but the pleasant experiences the USFS and its DR Luhrson has had with pilots at the Pleasant Valley airstrip near Young, AZ, over the last two years also played a role in this progress at Grapevine.
The Special Order remains in place for now, and Grapevine remains RESTRICTED, but this order allows the DR to grant temporary exemptions for specific periods of time, and DR Jardine has stuck his neck out for us in offering to allow us to hold APA/RAF sanctioned fly-in events at Grapevine. Basically, this relationship will be ours to protect or destroy. I know there are some that feel it should just simply be open to public use, and yet there are others who say “No, public use is what ruined it in the past.” As for me, I think I’ll just appreciate the fact that we have saved Grapevine from the slow quiet effects of time and disuse. What the future holds, only time will tell, but with the pilot community working together and respecting the DR’s vision and limitations for the airstrip, we can all celebrate and look forward to visits at a recreational airstrip that we did not have available yesterday.
With a few successful fly-ins under our belt, we’ll perfect our system of event organization and will try to accommodate the various aviation groups around the state through inclusion at the scheduled fly-ins. Your APA and RAF teams work for all AZ Pilots!Please keep in mind – Grapevine is not open for individual use, but only for pre-approved APA/RAF sanctioned events. This airstrip continues to be used by the USAF and use without permission is not only dangerous, but will undermine the progress we’ve made here, and at other USFS strips we are working on. We want to be the friendliest group of recreators the USFS works with!
So did we make history? If one day our children or grandchildren have the opportunity to visit a beautiful little airstrip at the shores of Roosevelt Lake, I would say we have indeed made history!