Retirement Wasn't End Of The Trail For Horsewoman



When Shirley Armstrong hums a few bars of "Happy Trails To You," it's more than just a song.

Armstrong a retired woman with a horse named Sue has long had a special interest in trails.

"When I lived in the Valley, I would go down to the South Mountain Park Preserve and help them build trails, and also monitor trails on horseback," Armstrong said. "When I was spending summers in Flagstaff, I did the same thing as a volunteer for the Coconino National Forest. We'd make sure people had water, and tell them where the trails are."

Since moving to Payson two years ago, Armstrong has been a member of the Gila County Trails Alliance, a group of equestrians, hikers and non-motorized bikers whose mission is to preserve and maintain the Rim country's trails.

Besides coordinating a master trails plan with the Town of Payson and the Payson Ranger District, the organization tries to educate its membership and the public on trails ethics and etiquette.

"We're working on this kind of stuff, trying to get people to help us, and scrounge up a little money," she said. "We have people come out and make a day of it, go out there and work on a trail, and then we have hamburgers."

"Everybody should use (our trails), should want to use them, but use them respectfully," she said. "Ninety-nine percent of the people out there are just fine."

Armstrong also works with the Volunteers of America on the Arizona Trail and other larger projects.

"We had a work party last October out at Geronimo and we put in a couple miles of that, and we're going to do it again in October of this year," she said.

The Arizona Trail is a 750-mile-long project using mostly existing trails that, when completed, will run north and south from Utah to the Mexico border. When completed, it will link mountain ranges, canyons, deserts, forests, wilderness areas, communities, historic sites and trail networks.

In the Rim country, the Arizona Trail comes off the Rim, runs along the Highline Trail and then works its way through the Mazatzal Wilderness.

Armstrong is also a member of the Arizona State Committee on Trails, a 25-member body that advises the Arizona State Parks Board on trails-related matters.

"The state has a comprehensive list of trails that are part of a program that we are trying to update," she said. "We have an old book that doesn't tell you much, and we're trying to re-do it."

Armstrong is especially encouraged by the support the Gila County Trails Alliance has received from Tonto National Forest Service personnel since Ed Armenta became district ranger.

"He is really working hard to get things going up here," she said.

To join the Gila County Trails Alliance or volunteer some time, call Armstrong at 474-4951 or President Ron Gilbert at 472-8756.

Armstrong's interest in trails coincides with one of her favorite leisure activities horseback riding. She's owned as many as four horses, but currently just has Sue, a 19-year-old whose real name is Super Supreme.

"She's the granddaughter of Depth Charge, who is listed by 'Western Horseman' as one of the top 10 race horses of the century.

While Sue has never raced, Armstrong knows she is fast.

"I tried her on a race track up in Flagstaff, and she can move," she said.

It's probably a good thing, because a slow horse wouldn't be able to keep up with this "retired" woman.

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