“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 reported on January 9, and his dream that Sacaton reopen by New Years was fully realized.

This airstrip had lain unusable for three decades. “At least a decade ago, folks met at the airstrip, including RAF Ambassador Larry Filener and RAF Arizona Liaison Mark Spencer. We recognized it could become part of the great inventory of New Mexico’s accessible recreational airstrips,” Keller said, and they began the task to reopen it. The cooperative Challenge Cost Share agreement between the RAF and the Gila National Forest provided leverage for the project, and has been fulfilled to “return Sacaton airstrip to operational status to increase public access, promote tourism and economic development, while protecting the natural resource.” Keller adds, “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.”

Pilots can now access this airstrip near Buckhorn, New Mexico. The runway lies along the Gila Wilderness with access to trails, including the Rain Creek trail. “The Wilderness offers fishing for the coveted Gila Trout,” Keller pointed out. Prior to landing, permission is required by calling USFS Gila Dispatch center at 800-538-1644. At its 6,200-ft elevation, pilots should be mindful of density altitude. You will find a Safety Briefing at the New Mexico Pilots Association website.

Ron Keller meets with Gila National Forest/Glenwood District Ranger Erick Stemmerman in early January to celebrate Sacaton rehabilitation and reopening.

Last October Keller began organizing work to begin clearing the overgrowth and install a windsock pole. Many New Mexico Pilots Association volunteers helped over the three month period. On Veteran’s Day weekend, nine RAF and NMPA volunteers flew or drove in to work on the remote location in what Keller called “pretty austere conditions.” Work continued over Thanksgiving weekend, when Keller flew in to hoist the new windsock, and others arrived to help toss rocks and paint the runway end 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.

Keller himself documented 100 hours between October and December, including the filing required by the FAA for charting, and the final task – listing Sacaton in the Airfield Guide. See it here.

Submitted on January 30, 2023.


  1. William Lazarus on February 1, 2023 at 8:06 am

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