Hoping to promote responsible off-road use, a volunteer group is installing information kiosks with trail information around Rim Country.
The Tonto Recreation Alliance or TRAL (pronounced trail) has so far installed six maps in the Payson area and is looking to add several more.
Rich Smith, president of TRAL, said the group is working on maps for the Bulldog Canyon area and will move on to other areas in the Tonto National Forest in the coming year.
“We think it’s likely that we’ll install dozens of these style OHV user maps around the forest as well as larger format, 4-foot square versions in informational kiosks,” he said. “We also intend to include similar signs for information about specific points of interest and for public education.”
One of the closest signs to town is located on the Houston Mesa Road, just after you turn off State Route 87 north of Payson.
Off-road use is huge in the Tonto National Forest. The 2.8-million-acre forest, which stretches from the outskirts of Phoenix to the Mogollon Rim, is one of the most visited in the nation, with about 4.8 million people living within an hour’s drive of the forest.
It is the last forest in Arizona to come up with a travel management plan. After a decade of study and re-study, the Tonto National Forest in April released the latest — and maybe final — version of a network of 6,000 established miles of roads and trails for off-road use.
The draft of the final plan would ban off-roaders from most of the Payson Area Trails System (PATS), but add 76 miles of road to the system open to the public, plus another 50 miles of roads and trails left open to administrative use.
The plan would leave open to public use 3,000 miles of roads and nearly 3,000 miles of motorized trails. And it would close to the public another 3,000 miles of roads and trails, many of them tracks through the forest created by repeated use by cross-country riders.
Until the Tonto National Forest finalizes the travel management plan, a full-forest user map is not yet available.
While the plan is not yet done, off-road use continues. Hoping to point people in the right direction, TRAL started experimenting with simple, local area you-are-here maps in the Sycamore Creek off-highway vehicle (OHV) area about five years ago.
“While out for recreation or volunteer work in the area, we regularly ran into forest visitors who were lost and needed to find their way to the area entrances,” Smith said. “These experiments were successful so we got permission from the Tonto to start making some additional OHV user maps for other areas.”
The group started with an improved and expanded version of the Sycamore Creek map to include the Rolls OHV area. They have also installed maps in the Hewitt Station area, a heavy use portion of Cave Creek.
The new signs go hand-in-hand with TRAL’s existing work to monitor and sign OHV trails in the Tonto.
“This program has used staff and volunteer efforts to travel about 2,800 miles of OHV routes in the forest to monitor the conditions of the trails and install route markers,” he said. “While the official decisions from the forest about which routes will remain open and which will close will come from the conclusion of the travel management process, our maps and signs are meant to begin the education process of which trails the public should be using.”
Smith believes the new signs will help cut down on illegal trail use.
“We believe that the majority of recreational trail users including hikers, bikers, equestrians and motorized users will use the trails that they are supposed to if provided clear information,” he said.
TRAL, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was established in 2009 to help manage off-highway vehicle recreation exclusively in the Tonto National Forest. Volunteers and staff help with trail repairs and work to educate the public about responsible recreation.
A grant from Polaris Industries and RideNow Powersports helped fund the new trail maps and frames. In Payson, local businesses also contributed as well.
“We are very thankful to all of the sponsors who pitched in to make this project a reality. As a nonprofit organization, TRAL is very mindful of stretching every dollar we receive as far as it will go,” he said.
The sign/map frames are manufactured by a local business for about $300 each and the information inserts are about $20.
Smith said they are always looking for new volunteers to help keep OHV trails open and in good shape. Anyone interested in more information can visit tralaz.org or can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smith has been off-roading for several decades and says the Tonto National Forest is his favorite area.
“The diversity of terrain, climate, biology, scenery and recreational experience packed into this one forest is amazing and right in our backyard,” he said. “In the Payson area, I really like Pyeatt Draw although I’d have to say that I consider the Sycamore Creek OHV area to be ‘home base.’”
To get a copy of the Payson-area OHV map, visit tontorecreationalliance.org. There, find a link to Avenza Maps. Or, from the Apple app or Google Play stores, download the Avenza Maps app. It costs $1.99 to download the Payson OHV map. The money is used to fund ongoing development of Tonto OHV user maps and other programs.
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