Joe Longbotham, a wiry man with a beard, a twinkle in his eye, a jaunty step and a love of the outdoors, channels the spirit of John Muir. He started hiking four years ago to keep healthy in retirement, then lost 30 pounds hiking more than 500 miles each year.
He also got deeply involved in the all-out effort to complete the Arizona National Scenic Trail, which traverses the whole state north to south and passes through Pine and Strawberry. The efforts of a host of volunteers like Longbotham will conclude next year with the completing of the last link in that trail.
In 2007, Longbotham saw an Arizona Trails Association (ATA) trailhead sign. He decided to volunteer. “I’m attracted to volunteer work because I find those people are like who I aspire to be. My life is better when I associate with nice people,” he said.
Traveling light, (he uses ultra-light back-packing gear even forgoing a camp stove), Longbotham probably spends a couple of months a year working and hiking on trails.
But his volunteer work building the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZNST) will end by next year. After 25 years, the Arizona trail will have all sections finished. Completion of the trail coincides with the state of Arizona’s centennial.
The Arizona National Scenic Trail began as the vision of Dale Shewalter, a Flagstaff teacher. Walking across the state from Nogalas to the Utah border, he discovered that existing trails could interconnect to create a state-long trail through Arizona.
Dale’s vision evolved into a continuous 800-plus mile ecologically and environmentally diverse trail. It links communities, mountains, canyons, deserts, forests, public lands, historic sites, various trail systems, wilderness areas, and other points of interest. Mostly single track, the trail accommodates hikers, runners, equestrians and mountain bikers.
Longbotham says, “It’s a small world when you start working for the AZ Trail.”
He recently ran into AZNST Executive Director Dave Hicks and President Emily Nottingham on a section of the AZ Trail in the Superstition Mountains between Superior and Roosevelt Lake. Longbotham simply sat under a tree soaking in the beauty of the place when the two “bigwigs” came by.
Recently, Hicks and AZNST Board of Directors member Eric Smith have launched an effort to bring communities located along the trail information about a couple of association events.
To celebrate Arizona’s 100th birthday, the ATA has created the Arizona Trail Centennial Adventure. The program calls on the public to get a group together, choose a section of trail and register by July 31 to help the organization get every inch of the trail hiked, biked, ridden and run.
“We’ve divided the trail into 100 pieces to represent 100 years,” Hicks said, “So far, many sections of the trail have been covered. Now we’re hoping some adventurous folks will take on some of the more remote portions of the trail.”
To register, see www.aztrail. org/centennial/epicenter.html for all the information and references needed to sign up.
Eric Smith spearheads a program called, “Gateway Communities” where the trail passes close to towns, including Rim Country communities.
“Payson, Pine and Strawberry are considered some of the most special ‘gateway’ communities along the entire recreation trail,” he said.
Smith said the AZNST is receiving national attention as one of the most diverse recreational opportunities in the country. His goal includes educating “gateway communities” on their unique potential including:
• The Arizona Trail Association will feature the community and promote it as a destination along the Arizona National Scenic Trail.
• AZNST users will come to the community to use and enjoy the amenities and businesses.
• The community could host a satellite visitor center and base of operations for the AZNST and ATA.
• The community could receive recognition and participate in the competition festivities of the AZNST as part of the Arizona State Centennial Celebration.
Longbotham’s work on the AZNST certainly won’t finish with the 25-year celebration.
“Trail maintenance will only end when erosion stops and plants stop growing. That doesn’t sound too good for people. So far, no one has built a robot for trail work, but I hope that they are working on one.
To find sections of trails to hike see: www.aztrail.org/passages/passages.php There is no charge to download maps, if you are a member of ATA.