The docks of Saguaro Lake are loose of their moorings. The sand of the beaches has been blown into the water.
A series of storms battered the infrastructure of the popular recreation area. Now, the U.S. Forest Service is taking a beating for the slow pace of its repairs.
Harold Walden, a retiree from Mesa, said he boats on the lake twice a week. And when he backs his 19-foot Bayliner into the cool water, he sees the money he’s paid for access sinking beneath the surface.
“In my mind, they’ve been dragging their feet for better than two months,” the 73-yearold Walden said.
But Art Wirtz, the ranger in charge of the district that includes the lake, is pleading for the public’s patience. He said repairs could be completed by mid-August — “as long as the winds cooperate and we don’t get any more damage.”
“Dragging our feet is far from our approach and I do everything possible to expedite the process,” Wirtz said. “But it takes time.”
It was over time, according to Wirtz, that severe weather wreaked havoc at Saguaro Lake.
“There have been so many damaging storms over the last year,” Wirtz said.
The most recent incident came Monday. In one afternoon, a thunderstorm drenched the lake with about 1.2 inches of rain.
The lake’s west fishing pier was damaged the most by the storm’s wind. The pier broke off where it connects to the concrete base, Wirtz said. The dock has since been secured with a cable attached to shore, but engineers told the Forest Service a crane will be needed to pick up the broken base.
One of the more obvious signs of damage is at the courtesy dock adjacent to the boat ramp. The dock, a strip of metal jutting into the water, is separated from its attachment to the shore.
Although authorities try to keep people off the dock by blocking the walkway access, Wirtz said many ignore the warnings.
Last fall, Wirtz added, another storm took all of the sand off the beach at Butcher Jones Cove and put it in the lake. Some sand was recovered, but a full restoration will require emergency funding that has yet to be obtained.
And at the Bagley Flat Campground, accessible only by boat, another courtesy dock was damaged by the torque created when high winds combined with large swells.
There have been some repairs. The fishing pier at Butcher Jones recently was repaired, Wirtz said, and as part of the fix-up the strength of the underwater anchors was increased.
“These are not easy fixes, and the repairs needed are actually redesign and reconstruction so we don’t get damage in the future,” Wirtz said.
Walden said there’s other damage, such as missing cleats which boaters use to tie up their watercraft.
With all these docks and piers out of commission, he wants to know what his entrance fee is paying for.
“How come me and other people are paying big money, and nothing’s being done?” Walden asked.
Forest Service records show the Saguaro Lake facilities recently collected $211,000 in annual revenue. A typical boater pays $10 per outing: $6 per vehicle, plus a watercraft use fee of $4.
But, Wirtz noted, that money goes toward day-to-day maintenance — and not major repair work.
“We do not have experts on staff at Mesa to design these reconstructions, so our engineers in the Phoenix office contact companies that do that work on docks all of the time,” Wirtz said. “After their design is completed, we have to go through contracting and that takes considerable time based on federal regulations for contract work.”
Walden is growing impatient.
“You can get the boat in, but you can’t get to the boat, he said. “If you’re paying for it, it ought to be addressed and taken care of.”
Wirtz said it isn’t normal for the weather — be it summer thunderstorms or winter’s hard rains — to do this much damage.
“I think somebody up there controlling the weather is angry with us,” Wirtz said. “Canyon Lake got a few of these storms, but nothing like Saguaro.”
The storms banged up more than Forest Service property. At the Lakeshore Restaurant, manager Rob Engel said an afternoon microburst in August tore apart the café’s porch. Among the amazing sights were thick wooden poles snapped in half, bolted-down chairs and tables ripped out of the concrete and a 600-pound bar flipped onto the roof.
“We could see (the storm) coming down the canyon,” Engel recalled. “Then it came around (from the north) and hit us.”