The breathtaking beauty of Rim Country goes on for miles ... too bad it lacks easy access.
Area trails often have a few signs, many ruts and huge exposed rocks. Difficult entry points get washed out or simply overgrown.
However, several groups have committed to changing the quality and quantity of trails. They dream of getting people out into the vast ponderosa forest that surrounds the communities of Pine, Strawberry, Tonto Village, Christopher Creek and Payson.
Pine-Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee
Coordinated by Janet and Mike Brandt, this group knows how to have fun. Each weekend, weather permitting, volunteers meet between Pine and Strawberry to build trails.
“Ultimately, we want to build a trail system that connects the Fossil Creek Trail with the Tonto Natural Bridge,” said Mike.
The committee hopes to create trails that appeal to hikers of all abilities.
“We’ll have a system of loops, like a ski resort does,” said Mike.
Ski resorts have beginner, intermediate and advanced ski runs color coded and clearly marked.
It has taken two years of planning and filing NEPA studies with the Forest Service for the Fuel Reduction Committee to reach this point.
“It might seem as though we sent out an e-mail and now we’re building a trail, but it took a long time to get to this point,” said Janet as she cut down brush to clear the way for the trail finishers behind her.
Only a few hours in the morning are set aside for the challenging work of removing manzanita and other brush or removing boulders from the marked route, then smoothing out and firming up the trail.
Usually, work starts at 8 a.m. and finishes up by noon. During the colder winter months the start time is delayed until 9 a.m. to allow temperatures to warm up.
The group has so much fun, it often decides to keep the party going well into the evening. Volunteers meet up at THAT Brewery in Pine in the evenings after trail work to drink a local brew, talk about the day’s successes and catch up on life.
Once a month, the group serves a filling lunch at the trailhead for all volunteers who worked that day.
The trail is far from being finished however, because the organizers are building it according to the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) standards.
The trails follow the edge of the fuel reduction efforts by the Forest Service — piles of cut brush and trees line the route.
“We have purchased wax paper to wrap the piles in,” said Janet, “Once snow covers the hillsides, then the wax paper can be removed and the pile burned.”
The Fuel Reduction Committee understands that the trails it is building help the economy of the community, but they also help fuel reduction efforts.
The trails will be open all year to hikers, but once a year, mountain bike racers will tear them up during the Fire on the Rim mountain bike race.
(For information see: http://psfuelreduction.org).
Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona (VOAZ)
Director Michael Baker has undertaken a massive upgrade of the Highline Trail between See Canyon and the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.
“Our interest was, No. 1, the proximity to the Valley, and two, the spectacular location of the trail and its importance in economic development,” he said.
The Highline Trail snakes along the underside of the Mogollon Rim for 50 miles between Highway 260 on the east and Highway 87 on the west.
The trail wanders through year-round streams, meadows and woods, offering many stunning views, said Baker.
The federal government decided the trail was enough of a national treasure that it designated it a National Recreation Trail in 1978.
It takes about a week to hike the whole length of the trail, but Baker plans to build loops to offer access for day hikers.
Baker and his organization have upgraded and built trails in the Phoenix and Prescott areas for the past decade.
But he needs volunteers from the Rim Country to complete the Highline Trail project.
“I’m hoping to put together a group in Payson like the Over the Hill Gang in Prescott,” said Baker at an October meeting in Scoop’s Coffee and Ice Cream Shop.
For the past 15 years, the Over the Hill Gang (OHG), made up of mostly retirees, has built up the trail system around Prescott.
“The OHG has no formal organization structure, has no meetings, no membership procedures, etc., but prides itself by completing sections of trails two to three mornings per week,” wrote George Sheats, volunteer coordinator of the OHG and president of the Yavapai Trails Association on the American Trails Web site.
With a core group of Rim Country volunteers, Baker said it would help.
At the Scoop’s meeting, about 10 Rim Country residents attended — some who regularly attend Payson Packers’ hiking trips, others who belong to an off-road vehicle club, (they have offered to shuttle supplies), and a couple that recently moved to the Rim Country.
All recognize the benefits of creating a recreation destination for visitors to spend time in the beauty of Rim Country.
The last volunteer event on the Highline Trail Baker organized was in September, but he plans on getting back to work in the spring.
VOAZ treats its volunteers well and provides all the tools and training. The group draws many volunteers now from the Valley by providing camps for the weekend.
After a day of working on the trails, VOAZ has a delicious meal prepared back at its campsite.
Baker said he would rather do this right than rush through and make changes that do not create sustainable change. “I recognize this is a long-term project,” he said.
Baker plans on speaking to Rim Country residents about the Highline Project on the KMOG Forum show in January.
If interested in signing up to be a VOAZ volunteer, please see the VOAZ Web site at: http://www.voaz.org/newlogin.aspx.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT TRAIL:
10 percent should be the greatest grade of a trail.
No. 1 concern when building a trail? Water runoff.
A great trail is anchored in nature.
Great trails are designed to reduce user conflicts — hikers vs. mountain bikers, horseback riders vs. ATV riders — a good trail serves them all.
Sustainable trails can survive neglect, have minimal impact on the surrounding area, reduce soil loss, serve user needs and are a priority for the entities (public or private) that own the land.