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Thursday, December 28, 2017


Rick Kesselman of the Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation
Maintaining and advocating for the Maricopa Trail is a labor of love for Rick Kesselman, Trail Director and segment steward of the Maricopa Trail+ Park Foundation (MTPF).
The 300+-mile trail that circles the Valley is a work-in-progress and amazingly, many Arizonans are unaware of this remarkable route and the efforts behind its creation and its exciting future.
New sign installed along the race route on 12-23-17.
I caught up with Rick and a troop of volunteers on a crisp December morning as they were preparing a section of the trail that runs between Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area and Lake Pleasant Regional Park for the 2018 Prickly Pedal mountain bike race. This roughly 40-mile mountainous section of the trail is one of the most technically challenging and visually appealing for hikers, bikers and equestrians alike making is the perfect stretch to host the fund-raising event that supports the trail. Kesselman had plenty to say when I asked why trail users should care about this epic route.
MT between Spur Cross and Lake Pleasant is visually stunning
Its landscapes, environs, flora and fauna lead trail users to unbounded outdoor adventures, from myriad unique Sonoran Desert parks and educational Nature Centers, to healthy trail, mountain, and lake activities with direct links to scores of welcoming community parks and trails,” Kesselman said. “These community linkages comprise the essence of our Foundation's Maricopa Trail Communities Program.  This Program will help focus growth in the Valley's Active Planning efforts to provide completely linked community trail systems with each other and the amazingly large Maricopa Trail and County Regional Parks system. The MT adds a unique treasure for its residents, visitors and tourists.” Kesselman went on to laude the multi-level cooperative efforts involved in the trail's overall mission. “Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department (MCPRD) and the Maricopa Trail and Park Foundation feel that it gives communities, its residents an opportunity to use our facilities. It connects the ten (soon to be eleven) County parks as well as the individual city and town trail systems throughout the Valley.

There are fewer prickly snags thanks to MTPF volunteers
MCPRD consider it a linear park. As with any trail system, if you don’t maintain it then it will fall apart, become a safety concern and not allow the user a good experience.”
Hiking the MT toward Lake Pleasant

Rick Kesselman

The “main loop” of the Maricopa Trail is currently 310 miles long, but future plans will add length and more connectivity to the route.
Much of the remaining work on the trail will be finished in 2018. “The main circular loop will be completed in June upon acquisition of three State Land portions that we have been waiting three years to acquire. It is currently 99.9% complete,” Kesselman said. Connectors to Buckeye Hills Regional Park and the future Vulture Mountain Regional Park are still in the planning stages. Once those spurs are completed, plans will be drawn up to connect city trail systems as well.
MTPF volunteers maintain the route.
The latest part of the trail to be completed is the 15.9-mile Segment 22 that runs between McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the Bronco Trailhead in Tonto National Forest.
Mountainous terrain defines the Prickly Pedal race course

On Jan 20, 2018, up to 350 riders will participate in the third annual Prickly Pedal Mountain Bike Race, an event that helps support the building and maintenance of the MT.  The event is organized by MTPF, a non-profit organization that works to protect, promote, develop, and maintain Maricopa County Regional Park trails through sustainable financial support and volunteer programs. For safety reasons, the race course section of the MT will be closed to all but participants on the day of the event.

Kesselman instructs trail volunteers
Those who wish to contribute or volunteer with MTPF don't need any special skills to do so.
Our Comprehensive Stewardship Training program trains our Crew Leaders and Trail Crew volunteers.” Kesselman said. “No previous skills are necessary. We also have volunteer opportunities beyond trail work such as marketing, social media, website administration, fundraising, etc. Prospective volunteers can go to the “Events” tab on our website home page to learn about volunteering opportunities and then to the “Volunteer, then Stewardship” tab to volunteer."
Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation
Prickly Pedal Race

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


HOLBERT TRAIL, South Mountain Park, Phoenix
Dobbins Lookout
On clear evenings, the beacons on Mount Suppoa that bleep and flinch above an array of communication equipment are visible from many parts of the Valley.  The spindly forest of red-lighted poles marks the highest point in South Mountain Park.  The 2690-foot summit is off limits to the public but equally swell sights can be had at nearby 2330-foot Dobbins Lookout.
Hikers on the Holbert Trail
Dobbins Lookout
You could drive up to this Depression Era observation deck, but for those who prefer to sweat for it, the Holbert Trail provides a moderately difficult slog and rewarding discoveries all the way up.  The hike is as much a trek through history as it is a respectable workout.  The trail winds up the north face of the Guadalupe Mountain Range---one of the three elongated ridges that make up South Mountain. The others are the Gila and Ma Ha Tauk ranges.  The first history lesson comes within a half-mile of the trailhead where the route cuts through a box canyon of pre-Cambrian stone that’s older than primordial ooze.
Hikers on the Holbert Trail
The rocks that predate all life on earth have survived eons of change, and their disintegrating, sun baked surfaces have served as canvas for the etchings of ancient inhabitants including the Hohokam people who made many of the intricate symbols visible on boulders and cliff faces throughout the hike. While images that look like water birds, turtles and sheep might be easy to understand, the meaning of artful spirals, crosses and cryptic figures may never be known.  Be sure to scope out the surroundings as petroglyphs seem to pop up in the most unexpected places.  As with all heritage sites, be respectful by not touching, rubbing or (gak) altering with graffiti or adding chalk to make them more visible. Sadly, many of the irreplaceable images have been lost or damaged by careless visitors.
Beyond “petroglyph alley” the trail begins a steady climb over wide switchbacks that move between canyon-bound passages and edge-clinging escarpments.  The trail ends at Telegraph Pass Road, but a more interesting option is to skip the last 0.3-mile and instead take the spur trail that leads to the lookout.  The native-stone-and-concrete structures as well as many of the park’s more than 50 miles of trails were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1933 and 1940.  An exhibit at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center gives insight to the program and the historic structures located within park. 
Downtown Phoenix seen from the Holbert Trail
At 16,000 acres, South Mountain is one of the largest municipal parks in the nation.
Dobbins Lookout
The wear and tear of generations of use by outdoor enthusiasts has taken a toll on the park’s condition. Many of the old trails were not built to modern sustainability standards and structures such as picnic ramadas no longer suit contemporary needs. That’s why the park is getting a major facelift that will include new facilities, stabilized trails, some new trails and improved parking. The first phase is nearing completion at the Pima Canyon trailhead.
Ascending the Holbert Trail
Compass at Dobbins Lookout
Valley views from Dobbins Lookout
The Dobbins Lookout provides a platform to contemplate what a treasure South Mountain is to our community. A compass post overlooking the Valley points to local landmarks, mountain ranges, farmlands, cities and suburbs that have grown up around the park.  Just as these surrounding elements have morphed and bloomed over time, so South Mountain Park adapts to accommodate.
Petroglyphs on Holbert Trail
LENGTH: 4.8 miles roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: moderate
ELEVATION: 1,350'-2,330'  
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, picnic tables, covered ramadas
GETTING THERE: Holbert Trailhead, 10919 S. Central Ave.
From central Phoenix, follow Central Avenue south all the way to the end where it flows into South Mountain Park. Just past the park entrance gate, turn left into the Activity Complex. Drive past the Interpretive Center and go all the way to the end of the road near the restrooms and park. The signed trailhead is directly across the road. Trailhead gates  are open from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Trails remain open until 11 p.m.