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Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Shawn Redfield at a super gate on AZT Passage 28
At a recent Arizona Trail Association (ATA) volunteer vacation work event on the Happy Jack segment of the trail on the Mogollon Rim, a reoccurring mantra drove the mission. “The trail doesn’t build itself.” Although the goal of constructing the 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail that runs from Mexico to Utah has been achieved, the route will never really be “finished”. Now, efforts have shifted from bridging the holes in the contiguous route to improving and maintaining trail conditions and enhancing user experience.
AZT steward Tasha Pontifex works on reroute of AZT
“When the Arizona Trail was originally planned, early trail advocates and land management agencies identified existing trails that could be designated as the Arizona Trail,” said Matt Nelson, Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association.
Wendy Lotze demonstrates tool safety protocols
AZT volunteers hike to the construction site
“Connecting the gaps between existing trails was done by utilizing existing dirt roads. Then, the gaps that still existed necessitated trail construction,” Nelson explained. “The approximately 20 miles on the Coconino National Forest south of Mormon Lake (Happy Jack Passage #28) is a prime example. Since the forest contains hundreds of miles of dirt roads, it was easier to use existing roadways and build trail where there wasn’t already a “path.” However, the National Scenic Trail Act requires National Scenic Trails be non-motorized pathways, and a “desired condition” is to minimize motorized interface between non-motorized trail users and motorists. The Happy Jack Passage has consistently been commented on as the least desirable for AZT users, and receives no day use hikers, runners or mountain bikers because it’s not a pleasant trail experience.”
The new and improved trail takes shape
Project leads: Shawn, Wendy (AZT)  & Brady Vandragt (FS)
Thru-hikers (trekkers who hike the entire trail) have long maligned the 29.4-mile passage as “a boring road hike” (or as Nelson described it; “a numb experience”) and scratched it off as a means-to-an-end. Even with its scenic pine woodlands and many stock tanks that serve as water sources and wildlife magnets, the passage has wallowed in its “middle child” status. The Happy Jack Singletrack Project seeks to bring the woodsy segment on the Mogollon Rim up to par. The three-year project, now in its second season, will result in a major reboot.
“The ATA has long desired a better alignment for this section, acknowledging that forest roads—badly eroded ones at that—are not ideal for a National Scenic Trail,” said Shawn Redfield, Trail Director, Arizona Trail Association.  “The new alignment was devised by U.S. Forest Service staff, based on topography, water sources and scenic features, and avoiding endangered species habitat.”
Volunteers rallied during a trail-building event held from May 26 – 30, 2019, one of several efforts that will augment the heavy-lifting done by American Conservation Corps workers and hired heavy equipment.
AZT Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Lotze
Volunteer Vacation base camp on the Mogollon Rim
“The volunteer vacation is part of a much larger, 3-year project to reroute the AZT off of 18 miles of old forest roads and on to newly-built singletrack trail,” Redfield said.
“The project is funded by a Recreation Trails Project grant from Arizona State Parks, Forest Service contributions, significant donations from REI, and funds from the ATA.  
Wendy Lotze guides a volunteer trail builder
American Conservation Experience youth corps from Flagstaff is doing a lot of work with hand crews and machines. ATA will hire additional machine work later this year.
In addition to the 18 miles of new trail, the project includes several kiosks at trailheads, 15 AZT super gates, 5 bike rollovers, a horse hitching rail, and numerous signs and markers placed along the new route.”
Volunteers are always needed for construction and maintenance projects and no special skills are required.
AZT workers plan the new route
“Can we say it again? The trail doesn’t build itself,” said Wendy Lotze, Arizona Trail Volunteer Coordinator and Happy Jack project lead at the May event.  During her on-site training demonstrations, Lotze explained safety protocols and proper use of tools while repeating the project goals and acknowledging that ongoing volunteer contributions are crucial to the trail’s future. “Our priorities are safety, fun and productivity. In that order. It’s more important that you stay safe and enjoy your experience here rather than burn out trying to build a lot of trail,” she said to project participants. “We want you to come back.” Even those who are not able or willing to get their hands dirty can still help out.
Orange flags denote the reroute location
“If swinging a pick isn’t possible for an interested volunteer, there are numerous other opportunities to help. We always need help with preparing lunches and shuttling volunteers. The ATA is continually raising funds to offset our share of the considerable project costs, so if you can’t make it into the field and still want to support the Happy Jack Singletrack Project, consider writing a check”, said Matt Nelson.
Volunteers got some nice swag
The reroute will improve user experience
Volunteers prepare to hike out to the construction site
So far, several miles of the reroute have been completed and updated maps are posted on the AZT website. No longer a soul-deadening trudge, the new route is now located away from roads. “The improvement in the scenic nature of the trail and the user-experience is dramatic,” Redfield said.  Day hikers will now find that the passage is an approachable way to step out into the forest without having to dodge motorized traffic.
“The best thing that could happen to this trail is to get a bunch of [foot] traffic over it as soon as possible to pack it down and harden the surface. If this thru-hiker season and social media “buzz” is any indication, getting traffic over the new trail is not going to be an issue,” Redfield added.
LENGTH: 29.4 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6733 – 7618 feet

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