On February 1st, the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest began the final phase of construction and restoration on the Cathedral Rock Trail. The closure will remain in effect until March 31st as crews work on the upper portion of Cathedral Rock. This iconic half-mile trail saw more than 27,000 visitors in March 2021 as visitors flocked to Sedona during the COVID pandemic.

Cathedral Rock Trail is a unique blend of steep slickrock terrain and soil tread-based corridor. “Although we do mark the trail with signs and cairns, often users become disoriented as they cross the slick rock expanses and create new social trails through patches of vegetation and soils. That increases natural resource damage and creates redundant trail alignments,” stated Kevin Kuhl, Trails/Wilderness/OHV Coordinator for the Red Rock Ranger District.

This final phase of restoration has several goals: hardening erosive soils within the trail tread surface through the construction of rock check steps, better delineation of the trail corridor, reducing damage to the fragile desert ecosystem, restoration of areas adjacent to the trail, and an overall enhanced user experience.

The closure was established to ensure the safety of hikers and workers since this effort requires more than power tools and pickaxes. Rocks are being harvested, moved, cut, and sawed. The rigging of rock, using wire cables, slings and mechanical support allows for rock to be moved more safely and efficiently, especially on the steep cross slopes of Cathedral. However, this also increases the potential for rocks to slide downhill.

Recognizing the need to redirect hikers, provide information on alternative trails, and help maintain the closure, the District approached Friends of the Forest (FOF) and Sedona Westerners Hiking Club for assistance. The organizations coordinated their efforts and established volunteer Trail Ambassadors positioned at Cathedral Rock Trailhead and the junction of Cathedral and Templeton trails. Every week, FOF provides up to twenty volunteers and Sedona Westerners arranges up to twelve volunteers, each volunteer working a 4.5-hour shift. Combined, this effort requires 256 volunteers and more than 1,150 volunteer hours over two months.

“Volunteers reduce distraction so that workers can get the job done uninterrupted. Workers on the project can focus and safely do what needs to be done, especially when working with loads of heavy rock on steep narrow footings. That’s priceless,” said Annie Glickstein, FOF volunteer.

“As volunteers assist to redirect hikers away from the dangerous construction zone, I knew we’d encounter some disgruntled visitors because Cathedral Rock is one of our most popular trails noted for its views and “vortex”, said Donna Forsythe, volunteer and President of the Sedona Westerners. “What I didn’t expect was the gratitude we are receiving from locals and tourists alike for volunteering our time to keep them safe and guide them to alternative hiking adventures on nearby trails, nor the fun we’d have meeting and mingling with visitors and fellow volunteers. Soon we will have happy hikers on a much safer and beautifully reconstructed trail!”

This is not the first time Friends of the Forest has worked on the Cathedral project. In 2022, FOF’s Trail Maintenance & Construction crew worked side-by-side with the Red Rock District Trail Crew on the lower section of Cathedral. All phases of the Cathedral project have received extensive support from the local community, as well as significant financial support from Red Rock Trail Fund.

As Kevin Kuhl stated, “This incredible project is only feasible due to Great American Outdoors Act funding and financial support from the Sedona Red Rock Trail Fund. We’ve received funding from both sources to pay for American Conservation Experience and Ancestral Lands Conservation youth corps crews, and Summit to Sea professional trail crew to assist our Red Rock Trail Crew in this massive undertaking. This partnership is further benefited by Flagline Trails, which provided Dry Masonry and Rigging training, and Friends of the Forest and The Westerners assisting with public outreach and education about the closure.”

While it is never easy to close any trail to the public, let alone one as popular as Cathedral Rock, this project will ensure the trail remains a safe and iconic hike for years to come.  We hope you will join us in respecting and appreciating the work that is being done, and the people who are making it happen.

Friends of the Forest is always seeking more volunteers! We have opportunities that range from being a source of information at the Visitor Center, to being a docent at a heritage site, to working on projects like the Cathedral Rock project. Visit www.friendsoftheforestsedona.org for a complete list of volunteer opportunities.

Serving Sedona, written this week by Melissa Pontikes and Carol Dores, Friends of the Forest, appears Wednesday in the Sedona Red Rock News.