The 500 miles of trails in the Red Rock Ranger District have provided a welcome outlet for distanced recreation and replenishing our spirits during the past seven months. Some trail users are noticing that their favorite routes need a bit of attention since the trail maintenance season was cut short in mid-March by COVID-19 precautions.
The regular trail maintenance and construction season runs from mid-September through May each year. This pattern is determined by favorable weather for strenuous work and optimal conditions for working with the fragile soils which are characteristic of our terrain. Exceptional work such as removal of fallen trees, repairing broken trail signs and special projects continue year-round as needed.
During the season, trail work is undertaken by community volunteers on designated volunteer days, Friends of the Forest volunteers and other Forest Service partner organizations, daily efforts by seasonal and full time Forest Service personnel and contracted youth crews such as American Conservation Experience.
Despite an abbreviated 2019-2020 trail work season, 44 community volunteer trail days were conducted, involving hundreds of volunteers. 322 miles of trail were maintained and 9 miles of trail were constructed. Friends of the Forest trail maintenance workdays contributed some 1,800 hours of effort, well short of a full season program which can reach almost 5,000 hours.
Good news for the coming season came on September 6th when the Red Rock District advised that Friends of the Forest trail maintenance and construction work would resume October 2nd, under special protocols to mitigate health risk. The recurring Friday FOF trail workdays often draw more than a dozen member volunteers. “We enjoy the camaraderie and satisfaction of sharing a day well spent keeping our trails in great shape”, said Ernie DiMillo, FOF member and former crew leader.
Routine trail maintenance consists of removing brush and loose rocks from trails and repairing trail tread, or the surface of the trail. Clearing water drainage pathways protects tread from erosion, although rain damage has not been much of a factor this past monsoon season! The rock steps and ramps known as “armoring” and rock cairn trail markers sometimes need repair as well. Remediation of social trails and naturalizing off-trail tracks are also important in our delicate soil environment.
Where to focus as trail maintenance work resumes is not a mystery. Reporting of trail conditions to Red Rock District personnel has been ongoing during the past seven months thanks to a smart phone app designed and deployed by FOF. The app is in use by FOF Trail Patrol and Graffiti Remediation volunteers who have remained active throughout past months under special safety protocols. Volunteers report the GPS location and details of trail conditions observed, such as a fallen tree, missing signage, broken fence, rock step damage, or eroded trail tread. These reports are on hand for prioritization and attention during the upcoming trail season.
In addition to routine maintenance, trail season usually involves expansion or improvements to the District trail network. With use of Red Rock District trails increasing every year, occasionally resulting in unhappy trail experiences, the strategy of the District has been to enable trail users to disperse over a larger, interconnected network. Providing opportunities that appeal to a variety of user skill levels among hikers, bikers, equestrians, and OHV users is also an important objective.
This past season focused on completion of the trail network known as the Western Gateway, which added thirty miles of multi-use trails. This network is accessed from Cultural Park Place and its development involved hundreds of hours of volunteer effort. Community fundraising for the project was coordinated by the Sedona Red Rock Trail Fund over several years.
Forrest Saville, Wilderness/Trails/OHC Coordinator, has laid out the 2020-2021 trail season priorities: “The season will start with reroutes and improvements to the Pine Valley and Dairy Springs trails, accessed from the Jacks Canyon trailhead. We also plan improvements to the high use Big Park Loop, Doe Mountain, Bear Mountain and Boynton Canyon trails and establishment of the Camp Verde Sports Complex Loop. And we hope to accomplish at least 250 miles of routine trail maintenance.”
The routine maintenance kicked off on October 2nd with more than a dozen Friends members at West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon working to prepare the trail for the upcoming surge in hikers seeking spectacular autumn tree color. The team focused on general maintenance, closing social trails and tree removal. COVID-19 protocols for volunteers include social distancing, wearing masks when distance is not feasible, special handling of shared tools and equipment, and no car-pooling.
When general community volunteer trail workdays resume, information about these public events will be posted at www.friendsoftheforestsedona.org/events.