Arizona Trail Association Improves Highline Trail Sections

Payson Roundup (August 11, 2022) by Michele Nelson

Arizona Trail Association volunteers recently have prepped 4,000 feet of steep sections of the Highline Trail for realignment as part of the restoration initiative.

The removal of dense manzanita not only allows for upgrading and improving the Highline Trail but also Passage 26 of the Arizona Trail.

“There were lots of small improvements to get the trail out of problematic drainages, and to reduce the steep grades that led to erosion issues,” said Matthew Nelson, executive director of the AZT Association. “We are focused on the segments that share alignment with the Arizona Trail, from the Pine Trailhead to Washington Park.”

For years the Highline Trail languished as an abandoned wagon and cow herding path until the Tonto National Forest partnered with the AZT Association, Pine-Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee, the Mogollon Sporting Association, Friends of the Tonto National Forest, the MHA Foundation, the National Forest Foundation, Wild Arizona, Arizona State Parks Grants and Trails and Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona to restore and upgrade a trail that passes through stunning landscapes. The resulting initiative has sparked progress toward making “the trail experience better for all,” said Nelson.

The AZT Association posts information on its various trail building projects called “Trail Work Thursdays.”

“(It’s) something we try to do each Thursday to keep people informed about work being done on the AZT,” said Nelson.

Volunteer events are scheduled intermittently, usually on weekends.

The volunteers for this section of the Highline worked one day a week for two months to remove the manzanita. They had some challenges to overcome, especially during the monsoon.

“To avoid the worst of the summer heat, the crew left Phoenix at 6 a.m. each day, then hiked to the work sites off Forest Road 32, west of the Washington Park trailhead,” wrote staff on the FB page.

The early starts also allowed the volunteer crew to escape most of the recent heavy rains, “albeit by only seconds on the last outing,” wrote staff.

On top of the weather, “Mexican spotted owl restrictions limited the crew to six members using hand tools only,” wrote the AZT Association staff.

The AZT Association understands the realignments are scheduled for this the fall with machine construction. The Highline Restoration Initiative has raised enough funds to pay for a professional trail building company, Flagline Trails, to do much of the remote trail work.

The AZT Association volunteers’ work satisfies a requirement of the State Parks grant to the Payson Ranger District to restore the Highline Trail, said AZT Association staff.

To read the article online, click here.