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Volunteers reopen Sacaton airstrip after 30 years

The Recreational Aviation Foundation has reopened the Sacaton airstrip in New Mexico. After three decades, the airstrip had become unusable. After volunteer efforts and FAA approval, the airstrip reopened for recreational access in January. "After FAA approval and no objections from Forest Service Fire and Aviation, the District Ranger approved Sacaton Landing Strip for recreational access this morning," RAF New Mexico Liaison Ron Keller said.Ron Keller with Gila National Forest Ranger Erick Stemmerman "At least a decade ago, folks met at the airstrip, including RAF Ambassador Larry Filener and RAF Arizona Liaison Mark Spencer," Keller said. "We recognized it could become part of the great inventory of New Mexico's accessible recreational airstrips." The challenge cost share agreement (CCSA) was a written agreement between RAF and Gila National Forest for an equal partnership to bring the airstrip back to operational status. The runway lies along the Gila Wilderness in the Gila National Forest and has access to trails, like the Rain Creek trail. Pilots may now access the airstrip near Buckhorn, New Mexico. The return to operational status will not only increase public access to the area but promote tourism and economic development, while still protecting the natural resources in the area. "As is the case for several other Gila airstrips, Sacaton is the result of a great team effort, including our partners in the Forest Service," Keller said. Last October, Keller began work to organize an effort to clear the overgrowth and install a windsock pole. Over three months, New Mexico Pilots Association volunteers assisted with the clearing. RAF volunteers worked in the remote location over holiday weekends to improve conditions and on Thanksgiving weekend Keller flew in to set up the new windsock. More volunteers were there to toss rocks, paint runway markers and cut mesquite. "We are blessed to have dedicated volunteers from within New Mexico and nearby states that really do make the difference between wishing for a new airstrip and making it happen," Keller said.The Sacaton airstrip Keller documented 100 hours between October and December, including filing for the FAA and listing Sacaton in the Airfield Guide. The reopened airfield gives the new audience access to the nature surrounding it. The surrounding Rain Creek Trail is a nine-mile trail with fishing spots for the Gila Trout. Before landing, a pilot must contact the USFS Gila Dispatch center for permission. The area has an elevation of 6,200 ft and pilots should be mindful of density altitude.
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