The town touts its “Adventure Where We Live” slogan that invites tourists to come up and enjoy the place many of us call home, but parking isn’t guaranteed.
At least, that’s how you could read the latest dustup over neighborhood access to the Payson Area Trails System (PATS) at the east end of Phoenix Street.
“Some of our trail facilities don’t have developed parking,” said Sheila DeSchaaf, assistant town manager and director of public works for Payson, including the Phoenix Street easement that provides hikers access to the Cypress or Boulder Loop trails.
For the second time in a year, neighborhood residents have threatened to fence off access to the network of trails in the Granite Dells area, ignoring a pre-existing trails easement.
The first time, the fence was intended to keep off-road vehicles from entering the Monument Loop Trail near the Chaparral Pines community.
This time, some residents reportedly want to block the Boulders/Cypress Trail Loop access to prevent hikers from parking in front of their homes or trespassing across their land.
DeSchaaf has heard both sides of the story.
“People that are coming off the back of the trail walk between lots 9 and 10 or 10 and 11, so folks that don’t have their area fenced off ... hikers are meandering on people’s private property and doing damage to landscaping,” said DeSchaaf.
Some homeowners have told DeSchaaf the crush of cars parked along the street worries them first responders would not have enough room to get to their home.
Hikers say the owners knew what they were getting into when they bought their homes.
Most weekends, up to 20 cars park near the Cypress Loop Trail trailhead in a cul-de-sac at the end of Phoenix Street. Payson never provided a parking lot for the trailhead because “the thought is that people are walking from the neighborhood,” said DeSchaaf.
The land is not owned by the town. In comparison, the town put up signs at the Chaparral Pines access point because it’s on town property. There is no parking there, but a PATS sign explains what sort of access is provided and what activities are allowed on the trail.
On Phoenix Street, the developers of Boulder Creek had to provide trail access as Payson’s approval process required them to set aside open space “for non-motorized access to the national forest by the public.” On a plat map from 2007 (attached to the online version of this story) the easements, both for the Green Valley Water sanitary district and the trail easement, are listed as two separate tracts. Tract A is the trail easement.
The access issue has escalated in the last few weeks after someone installed a solid metal green gate at the unmarked trailhead on Phoenix Street. Next, someone briefly posted a hand-written sign saying the town council would shut off access. The Green Valley Water sanitary district uses the easement for a pump station.
All this has alarmed hikers.
“Let the mayor and council know that access to the area can’t be limited just because a few people who have bought recently don’t like cars parked in their neighborhood,” wrote Teresa Kelleher in an email to a group of hiking friends. “The trails have been in use for decades. New arrivals to the neighborhood want to limit access for hikers. It’s not okay.”
DeSchaaf said that the town can indeed shut down the trail access point if the developer goes through the public hearing process. That process requires the filling out of an application and many meetings and public hearings. So far, “there has been no application, there’s just been questions,” said DeSchaaf.
Mary McMullen, former outdoor recreation and trails coordinator for Payson, wrote an email to the town and council to explain the history and significance of creating a trail system. PATS came into existence in 2007, “as the implementable version of the 1998 Trails Master Plan.”
She reminded the council that “one of the main elements of PATS was the future vision of interconnecting trail routes within town that would then connect with access points to USFS (United States Forest Service) lands surrounding Payson.”
The town has codified the trail plan in zoning. Developers must provide access to existing trail segments or actually build connecting segments when they develop land near the PATS system. During the Aug. 26 council meeting, the North Peak Hills project had to add a connecting piece to the PATS system, along with curbs and sidewalks.
The Cypress Trail Loop access point at the end of Phoenix Street “was recognized ... prior to the approval of the Boulder Creek Subdivision and before any of the residents in that subdivision built their homes and moved in …” wrote McMullen.
McMullen reminded the council that part of the mission of PATS was to provide access to activity and interest-generators such as parks, trailhead parking lots and access points in residential neighborhoods. Tourism remains the town’s main economic driver, with sales taxes paid by visitors, key to providing police, fire and street maintenance.
“If PATS is ever to realize its full potential, the council needs to be willing to continue to recognize its significance in future development decisions and challenges,” wrote McMullen. “If you take away access points because neighbors are upset at traffic, I urge you to look for alternative solutions that won’t oppose the PATS mission. Being able to have safe, enjoyable, accessible routes within town is not only an economic draw for the town, but also a huge contributor to quality of life for many of Payson’s residents.”
After McMullen left her position, the town did not fill her spot. Support for an active volunteer group that helped maintain the PATS trails lapsed. The recession kept the town from doing much to develop a system in the past decade and so it remains neglected.
DeSchaaf and town engineering staff plan to present ideas for parking at a meeting with the Boulder Homeowners Association on Monday, Sept. 20.
DeSchaaf recognizes in the future, the town will need to tighten up expectations.
“There’s room to make improvement there,” she said. “We haven’t updated our trails master plan and we haven’t included those improvements.”