Now that Gerri Wager's mission is complete, she has retired as president of the Gila County Trails Alliance.
But her heart is still out there on the woodsy "travelways" which wind throughout and around Payson miles and miles of unpaved highways to heaven for area hikers, horseback riders and non-motorized bike riders, all open for your enjoyment by the hard work and cooperation of Wager, her fellow Alliance members, and Tonto National Forest officials.
Wager and the alliance have even produced a 17-page map of the trails, available to anyone who sends $5 (to cover printing and postage) to the Gila County Trails Alliance, P.O. Box 695, Payson AZ 85547.
"The forest service has trails marked and maintained trails which are very different from anything else you go on," Wager said. "What we have mapped are what we technically have to call 'travelways.' They may be old roads, they may be old pathways, but they are not forest service numbered trails. That causes some confusion with people because we have always called anywhere we go a trail."
The reason trail-travel way semantics come into play, Wager said, is that when one suggests to the Forest Service that a new "trail" be created, one is not likely to see any results within one's lifetime.
"When you realize what they have to go through technically to create a trail the paperwork, the studies, the evaluation of the Indian remnants, the ecology, the wildlife, the water it's totally understandable," Wager said. "Every single entity has to put their approval in, and it takes a lot of time and effort. So they aren't real anxious to create new trails."
And that's why the Gila County Trails Alliance, despite its name, created not trails, but "travelways," which can be pushed through the bureaucratic cracks much more easily.
United they stand
By numbers, the alliance's membership is about 50, but the organization actually represents 400 to 500 people. The horseman's club, for example, is counted as a single member, but everyone within that organization is considered a member, too.
To join, the cost is $10 per individual, family, club, "or anyone who has any interest in the ongoing development of our trails," Wager said.
It was precisely that interest which led to the creation of the organization in 1994. Working with the town of Payson, Gila County and the U.S. Forest Service, the alliance developed a number of selected proposed trailhead sites. Their first success was a travelway along Chaparral Pines Drive, "which ultimately, we classified as a neighborhood access, because it has no off-site parking," Wager said.
With assistance from District Ranger Ed Armenta, the group also scored their first combination trail and trailhead, the Rodeo Grounds Event Trail, upon which "all the world opens up before you," Wager said. "It provides access for unlimited miles of open space."
The alliance's greatest triumph, however, may have been the inclusion in their plan of Monument Peak Trail, which had been slated to be part of a land exchange.
"A lot of posturing was done over the years, and the issue remained stagnant as the trade was being battled over between the developers and the forest service," Wager said. "When the trades came to a grinding halt more or less, the forest service had already accepted the concept, and we were on our way."
Since then, the alliance has also added to its system of travelways the Houston Mesa Trailhead, the Houston Mesa Horse Camp, Shoo Fly Ruins, the Boulders and Cypress Trails, and forest access points from Graff Road, Peach Orchard Road and Highline Drive.
The great outdoors
Today, the Gila County Trail Alliance is responsible for 10 Payson-area trails, "and all of them are close in, so anyone, with very little effort, can get to them," Wager said.
Her own personal favorite perhaps because it nearly begins in the back yard of her home in The Knolls is the Monument Peak Trail south of Star Valley.
"It's pretty level and not a heavy-duty, up-and-down trail," she said. "Close to that will soon be the Boulders, which is extremely attractive visually, with rock formations you wouldn't believe."
On the north side of town, she recommends Shoofly Ruins, where there are "miles and miles of old roads, some marked, some not marked but they're all on the maps, and they will get you out and back. It's beautiful country, and it's all on old roads."
West of town, the travelway situation "gets a little tricky," Wager said. "The only real public access point is at Maddison and Graff. Ultimately, there will be a trailhead there, but that may take some time. Still, it's there, and there's plenty of places to park, and it takes you out to miles and miles of open country."