For many of the riders who took on a nine-mile section of the Highline Trail during the Highline Hold’em Oct. 9 it was their first time riding in the area and what they saw blew them away.

The trail twists and turns through the ponderosa pine forest east of town, taking in sweeping views of Rim Country.

While the trail includes a few steep climbs, it offers plenty of quick descents, giving even beginner riders a thrill.

Many of the riders vowed to return and try the trail again, as well as other routes in the area.

Event organizer Trevor Creighton said he couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout.

As a first time event, having 80 riders sign up for an unknown event is a win.

“I was happy, definitely happy,” he said.

Just weeks before the race, just a handful of riders had signed up. This led to a few sleepless nights and panic attacks for Creighton, who created the event to not only bring awareness to the area’s trails, but also help improve them.

Money raised from the ride is going toward improving the Highline Trail.

The Highline, established in 1870, was used to travel between homesteads and to attend school in Pine. Zane Grey and Babe Haught used the Highline Trail while hunting, according to the Forest Service.

It fell into disrepair through the years due to neglect and wildfires. Then Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona (VoAZ) improved much of the trail after several years of work, thousands of volunteer hours and hundreds of thousands in funding.

But there is still work to be done.

Thanks to a commitment for the Forest Service, plans are underway to improve the rest of the trail so it could be ridden or hiked from the 260 trailhead to Pine, some 51 miles. In September, Payson District Ranger Matt Paciorek signed a decision memo for a plan that would re-route portions of the Highline National Recreation Trail (Highline Trail) along with portions of the Arizona National Scenic Trail and trails in Pine-Strawberry.

The restoration project’s goal is to revitalize the entire trail, beginning with the section from Pine to Washington Park. When completed, the Highline will have 51 miles of continuous singletrack trail.

Creighton said he was so happy 80 people took a chance on the ride. There was a mix of expert riders and riders who had just taken up the sport.

One rider, a retiree who started riding last year, loved the trail and loved that it wasn’t a race.

At several checkpoints, riders were given a playing card. Then those with winning hands won prizes at the after party held at Landmark at the Creek restaurant.

“Besides the money raised, it brought a lot of new awareness to the trails,” he said.

Next year, Creighton hopes to have 120 riders sign up.

Creighton thanked all the sponsors who helped make the ride a reality, as well as a group of students. The Rim Country Middle School Outdoor Adventure Club cleaned up the west end of the trail, removing brush from the trail near the See Canyon Trail before the ride.

Sponsors included the Mogollon Sporting Association, U.S. Forest Service, National Forest Foundation, Landmark at the Creek, Desert Financial Credit Union, American Family Insurance, Garvin’s RV & Adventures, Payson Tire and Auto, Sunshine Cleaning and Restoration, KRIM-FM, Absolute Bikes, Tonto Silkscreen and Embroidery, and Axis Culture Group. Drew Fiala designed the event logos.

All proceeds from the Highline Hold’em go to the National Forest Foundation’s Highline Trail Restoration project. The Mogollon Sporting Association and the National Forest Foundation matched funds raised through the event.

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