Hikers, bikers and horse riding folk will have eight miles of new trail to troll after the Forest Service recently concluded an environmental assessment, green-lighting the project.
The new trail will start near the Strawberry trailhead and connect with the Pine Canyon Trail, weaving through the ponderosa pines just north of Pine.
The trail will act as vital firebreak for the town and give outdoor enthusiasts somewhere new to roam.
The Pine-Strawberry Fuels Reduction (PSFR) committee fought to get approval for the trail, working three years with the Forest Service on an assessment. Due to bureaucratic policies, environmental assessments typically take years to complete.
Janet Brandt, fuels reduction board member, said people congratulated her on getting the assessment done so quickly. Now the board is eager to get started on construction of the trail.
Money raised through the Fire on the Rim mountain bike race and local donors is helping pay for the design of the trail and initial construction. A lot more money is needed to meet the $150,000 price tag, she said. The fuels reduction board hopes Forest Service grants will cover the rest of the trail’s cost.
So far, work on the trail is slated to start Oct. 6 in conjunction with a trail-building school hosted by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).
Finishing the trail will depend on fund-raising, Brandt said.
The trail, designed by Mark Flint, who was involved with the design the Arizona Trail, will act as a fuel break and non-motorized recreation trail.
The idea for the path came about several years ago when PSFR members were reseeding a fuel break with native grasses. Reseeding native grasses creates a low intensity fuel that firefighters can burn off every few years, clearing the fuel break of chaparral growth and eliminating the need for expensive hand crews.
Members noted how difficult it was to reach the area on the north side of Pine due to the steep terrain and lack of road access. The difficult access would pose major dangers for firefighters in an emergency, Brandt said.
“So the idea of putting a new trail was born.”
The PSFR committee collaborated with the Northern Gila County Economic Development Corporation and Mountain Bike Association of Arizona (MBAA) on the project, each group donating $5,000.
“While this trail was originally promoted by PSFR as a fire protection measure, the Forest Service also cited the benefits of the trail as a wildlife corridor and a fuel line,” Brandt wrote.
Pine needs all the help it can get when it comes to fire protection.
In 2004, a structure protection team gave P-S residents a 20 percent survival rate if a catastrophic wildfire enters the community.
Soon after, the PSFR formed as an oversight committee for fuel reduction efforts in the community.
“The intent was for the committee to become the voice of the community and to help conceive new projects and innovations that would move P-S to the forefront within the state, if not the nation, as a community that was willing to work together in making our area a safer place to live.”
Before then, the Forest Service had few fuel reduction efforts in the community.
The new trail could also yield economic benefits.
The mountain bike, horseback, hiking trail could attract new people to the area and stir up business.
Besides adding the new eight-mile trail, PSFR recently got NEPA approval to redesign several trails that connect to the Pine Trailhead, thus creating a whole network of redone trails on the east side of Highway 87.
Work on the new trail starts Oct. 6. The PSFR is hosting a trail-building school with the IMBA at the Pine Community Center.
Although the new trail won’t be part of the Fire on the Rim mountain biking race anytime soon, it is a step forward in making Pine a biking destination, said Ernie Borgoyne, who markets Fire on the Rim.
“Fire on the Rim supports projects like this new trail,” he said. “This is a major step towards expanding the race and developing Pine and Strawberry as a permanent mountain biking destination.”
For more information on the PSFR Inc., visit www.psfuelreduction.org.