It is one of the most historic trails in the area and if outdoor enthusiasts have their way, it will be one of the most iconic, bringing hikers and bikers to Rim Country.

After years of work to make the Highline Trail usable, Tonto National Forest Service officials announced last week plans to improve and re-route trails on the Payson and Mesa Ranger Districts through collaborative partnerships.

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 decision memo I signed to move forward with this initiative represents so much more to me; a huge amount of work, challenges, working together, and in the end, this is a testament to the great partners we have,” Paciorek said. “I am looking forward to implementing this project on the ground, continuing our work with our partners and talking about next steps for the improvement of these and other trail systems.”

This follows news of a new mountain bike event launching this year on the Highline.

The Highline Hold’em will take place Saturday, Oct. 9.

Riders will be shuttled from the Landmark Restaurant in Christopher Creek to the 260 Trailhead for the 9-mile mountain bike poker run on the 260 Trail.

“There they’ll ride the iconic 260 Trail to the See Canyon Trailhead and then down forest road 284 back to the Landmark,” said Trevor Creighton, who is organizing the event. “Along the way, riders will receive playing cards to create the best poker hand. After all riders arrive back at the Landmark, the top hands will win the grand prizes.”

All riders will receive a Highline Hold’em 2021 T-shirt with a paid entry fee.

All proceeds from the Highline Hold’em will go to the National Forest’s Foundation Highline Trail Restoration project.

The Highline Trail stretches for 51 miles below the Mogollon Rim, from the 260 Trailhead to Pine.

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 along some of the most scenic landscape Arizona offers.

Registration for the event closes Oct. 3.

The Mogollon Sporting Association and the National Forest Foundation have committed to matching funds for this event.

Creighton said he decided on a poker run fundraiser because while he loves riding sections of the Highline, he wants to see the entire 65-mile trail rideable.

“Every time I look at the Rim, I know there is a trail out there that could be a continuous trail for everyone to use,” he said. “I drive to Moab (Utah) and Colorado to ride and I wish we had the trails here. We have the topography for it.”

Forest Service

signs off ontrail improvementsThe Tonto National Forest worked with the Rim Country Trails Working Group to identify and develop plans and prioritize trails to improve the environmental condition and user safety on trails system surrounding the Town of Payson, Pine and Strawberry.

Forest Service officials and the working group identified the Highline Trail, Arizona National Scenic Trail — White Rock Mesa Passage 25 (White Rock Mesa Trail), Arizona National Scenic Trail — Sunflower Passage 22, Strawberry Trail, and Red Rock Spring Trail as priority trails for improvement projects.

Re-routing sections would move these trails to a more sustainable location and provide a higher quality, non-motorized trail experience for all user groups and future generations. Projects will be designed to prevent erosion, improve watershed health and water quality, increase user safety, and reduce maintenance of these forest system trails.

The working group included a host of partners, members from surrounding communities and specialized forest user groups which included Gila County, Arizona Trail Association, Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction Inc., National Forest Foundation (NFF), Wild Arizona, Friends of the Tonto and Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona.

According to Rebecca Davidson, NFF Southwest Region director, the foundation is thrilled to work collaboratively with partners and the Forest Service to support these improvements and facilitate implementation of the trail re-routes, maintenance, and the rehabilitation of portions of the old trail system that will now be closed.

“As part of the NFF’s Northern Arizona Forest Fund, the Highline National Recreation Trail is a priority project that supports watershed function in the Salt River system, minimizes sedimentation, improves water quality and sustainability, and protects this iconic trail and the outdoor experience for every explorer and visitor,” Davidson said.

Brian Stultz, Wild Arizona deputy director, added that his agency is proud to be joining the Tonto and partner agencies to restore the Highline Trail.

“Our mission is to protect, unite, and restore wild lands and waters across Arizona and beyond, for the enrichment and health of all generations, and to ensure Arizona’s native plants and animals a lasting home in wild nature,” Stultz said.

“We’re looking forward to using a collaborative approach to bring these values to a trail with such historical and recreational significance.”

Trail improvements and re-routes will comply with the Tonto’s Land and Resource Management Plan of managing recreation resources and increasing opportunities for developed and dispersed experiences through the repair, reconstruction and maintenance of five sections of trails.

For additional information concerning this decision, contact Angie Abel, Payson Ranger District, 1009 E. Hwy. 260, Payson, AZ 85541, phone 928-474-7900.

To sign up for the poker run, visit https://msarim.org/highline-holdem/. The cost is $50. Shuttle service included.

Contact the editor at abechman@payson.com

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(1) comment

Phil Mason

That's really great. How will that investment look when the whole darned forest goes up in a catastrophic inferno because the FS not only does ZERO in forest clearing operations but actually creates increased fuel by constructing large mounds of wildlife habitat??? Maybe the hikers can begin their hiking experience from the Granite Reef Diversion Dam.

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