'Jimmy Harris Trail' To Be Beautiful, Educational

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Songbirds sing loudly overhead and the wind muffles the sounds of traffic along the nearby highway rattles through ponderosa pine and manzanita.

"Help me with this log," Gila Community College student Ryan Carey said to Abram Timmer.

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Kristine Anderson, Alesha Huddlestun and Janice Workman build the cairns that will act as markers of information along section of the Payson Trails System that crosses the Gila Community College campus.

The men are just two of the students in the environmental biology class at Gila Community College who are creating the eastern terminus of the Payson urban trails project.

By the end of April, these students will have spent several hundred hours creating a one-mile-long trail through the woods around the Payson campus.

"Having the students do something practical aids their understanding of the environment," said professor Joe Shannon. "Even though we have different career paths, we all need to know about the environment," he told the class.

The trail is one of the four centers planned in the Payson Area Trails System.

Creating an interpretive trail

Students have cut steps into three rather steep hills, raked branches and moved stones off the path.

They brought tools and materials from home to add to the $250 grant from Home Depot.

The students did apply for a $1,000 grant from Wal-Mart, but, as of press time, they have not received an answer.

Deadfall trees demarcate the trail.

Logs placed at 45-degree angles keep the washes from making ruts across the trail, Carey said.

The rain of Feb. 14, a day before the washes were to be constructed, actually made it easier for students to see where the water would run.

Students are building an informational kiosk at the trailhead just outside the back doors of the west campus building.

Markers, their content written by students, will be peppered along the earth-and-granite path.

"I want you to help educate people about the area," Shannon said.

During a February lab, the team of students identifying plants found eight varieties -- manzanita, pinon and Ponderosa pine, scrub oak, agave, also known as Century plants, prickly pear cactus and deadwood or "snag."

"We have bear grass here," Janice Workman said as she pointed out a clump of tall thin grass. "I never knew that."

As of March, the team is still in the process of identifying wildflowers.

The wildlife team has identified elk and white-tail deer by their droppings. Gould's turkey and Rufous hummingbirds are among the area's wild fowl.

"Hummingbirds are my favorite," said Robin Mathews.

"There are actually 18 different species in Arizona."

Alesha Huddlestun and her team toured Payson's Archaeology Museum in preparation for their report on the ancient cultures who lived here.

The public is invited to the trail's dedication at 11 a.m. May 3 in Gila Community College room 301.

Student teams will give PowerPoint presentations of their environmental ecology reports in the areas of botany, ethnobotany, wildlife and cultural interpretation.

The students unanimously voted to name the path they worked on, "The Jimmy Harris Trail," in honor of college alumni and employee L.Q. Harris III.

Jimmy was L.Q.'s son who passed away several months ago.

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