Identifying where crews should build new trails in Rim Country continues to trek along as stakeholders met last week to work through public input.
The Rim Country Trails group held two public hearings earlier this year in March and April and got lots of feedback on where new trails should go and where existing ones need fixing up. In all, public feedback generated 101 potential projects.
Consultants narrowed those down to the 19 most popular projects.
They include six projects in the Pine-Strawberry area; four between Payson and Pine; four near Payson, including the Granite Dells; three on the Mogollon Rim; one project that improves access to the Arizona Trail and a project in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests on the Rim.
A working group met Wednesday to refine those 19 projects, weighing which ones offer access to new areas, which have possible funding and volunteer interest and what user experience they offer, like hiking, biking or horseback riding.
That revealed five areas with the most interest and potential.
They include new trails in the P-S area, finishing up the Highline Trail; Granite Dells; a connector trail linking Payson to Pine and the Arizona Trail connection.
The trails group will hold a public meeting to discuss these results sometime this winter.
Debbie Cress, district ranger with the Forest Service, said she is keenly aware that the public does not want to keep talking about trails, but rather see them built.
The trail planning process started a year ago and consultants say the community has taken huge steps toward identifying where they want to see trails built.
The Forest Service said it needs this information so it can start the paperwork to get these projects shovel ready. That includes environmental and archaeological assessments.
Once those are in hand, volunteer groups like Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona, the Arizona Trail Association and the Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee can, put in for grant funding, rally volunteers and start work.
The Forest Service initiated and funded this trail planning work. Cress said the Forest Service has no money to actually build the trails, but wants to facilitate trail building.
“We will take care of the technicalities and then get out of your way,” she said, speaking to a variety of groups Wednesday.
Cress said the Forest Service won’t dictate where trails go, but will rely on public input and the working group to pick which areas to study.
Cress said the “whole point is to get something started.”
The group is planning to host a Rim Country Recreational Partnership meeting sometime in December with community leaders from Payson, Star Valley and Gila County to discuss recreation opportunities.