A satellite image of the easement access at the end of Phoenix Street

A satellite image of the easement access at the end of Phoenix Street.

The issue of continued public access to the Granite Dells trailhead off Phoenix Street has the Payson Town Council’s inbox jammed.

Councilor Scott Nossek reported he has more than 30 emails.

Mayor Tom Morrissey had “at least 40.”

And Councilor Jim Ferris received “well in excess of 30 emails where people are all for keeping access to that open.”

The subject of all those emails? Continued access to the trails that begin at the end of Phoenix Street, which several residents feel has been threatened recently with the installation of a new gate.

Assistant Town Manager and Public Works Director Sheila DeSchaaf reported on the last-minute agenda item during the council’s Sept. 23 meeting.

Town staff started talks with the Phoenix Street neighbors on access on Sept. 20, but DeSchaaf said whatever needs to happen, “there is no funding for … improvements.”

DeSchaaf made it clear several times during her presentation that there is currently no threat to the easement. No one from the HOA has filed anything with the town to start that process.

The issue started a few weeks ago when the Boulder Creek Homeowners Association installed a gate at the trailhead. Next, a handwritten sign showed up threatening the town council would soon close the easement access point to the Cypress and Monument trails.

Hikers reached out to the Roundup, who provided background on the area. They said when the developers of the Boulder Creek subdivision purchased the property, access to the Forest Service trails would remain available to the community as part of the Payson Area Trails System.

The vision for the trail system started in 1998 with a Trails Master Plan. The idea was to connect the trails and roads in the forest around Payson into a system that encircled the town. The town codified this vision in 2007 as the PATS system. In the town code, when land is purchased for development, if an identified access point to a PATS trail is nearby, the owner must provide an easement or even build a connecting trail for public access.

But on Phoenix Street, for the last decade, more and more large homes have mushroomed up around the easement.

At the same time, the popularity of the access point at the end of Phoenix Street has grown. Hikers report up to 20 cars park every weekend on the narrow shoulder that separates the road from private property.

Despite the increase in the public’s interest, no improvements to the access point have ever been made. There are no signs, no trash cans and no parking spaces. The town says the land is the developer’s responsibility to improve; the homeowners say it is the town’s issue to fix.

The council members just want to make sure the easement remains open.

“I’ve had no issue since I’ve been on this council that has generated a more diverse and impassioned response,” said Nossek.

Nossek hoped the town would look into a solution soon.

“I think that trailheads are critical to Payson,” said Ferris.

Town Manager Troy Smith said staff intends to “review complaints over time about trailheads in other neighborhoods” and then bring the council a list of concerns throughout PATS to start a dialog on what to do about the larger systemwide access problems.

Before the recession, Payson had a position dedicated to trails in the Parks and Recreation Department. That position has never been filled after Mary McMullen, the last outdoor recreation and trails coordinator, left about 10 years ago.

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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(2) comments

Mike White

A similar thing happened at the PATS access point at the North end of Chaparral Pines Dr. and was also reported in the Roundup. It was actually worse as the homeowner had padlocked the gate. The Town representative said she hoped all parties would work it out. To the best of my knowledge, this overreach by the homeowner has not been corrected.

Phil Mason

To be transparent, I have no dog in this hunt as I never have and probably never will use that particular trailhead as the west boundary of our property is the TNF, however, there are two salient points here.

One is there has been a tremendous investment in the PATS system and that should be protected as promised.

Second, DeSchaaf's statement “there is no funding for … improvements.” is typical of the bureaucracy here in town government - it is not exactly transparent and leads one to a false assumption.

While there may not be any funds currently BUDGETED to solving the issue, the town has millions in unallocated funds available and she either knows it or should be fired for being that ignorant and I do not believe she is at risk on that account.

In addition, HOAs should be proscribed from implementing any new rule or action that negatively impacts areas outside the HOA like access to a trailhead.

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