Arizona Trail’s First Mile – Open or Closed?

Patagonia Regional Times (March 2022) by Robert Gay

The first mile of the Arizona Trail (AZT), the much loved and well-trodden 800-mile path from Mexico to Utah, was closed in July 2020 when Border Wall construction began within the Coronado National Memorial at the Eastern edge of the San Rafael Valley. In that first mile of the Trail, starting at the Mexican border, hikers gain several hundred feet to the parking lot at Montezuma Pass. This first mile sets the stage for Passage 1’s ascent from 6,575 feet to 9,456 feet at Miller Peak, one of the most dramatic climbs of the entire trail.

During the Trump Era, the 30-foot “tall wall” picked up at the west end of the 18-foot wall previously built across the San Pedro River Valley and had started up the steep slope in the Coronado Memorial when construction was paused by incoming President Biden’s ‘stop-work order’ of January 20, 2021. The tall-wall construction within the Memorial had also included a freestanding stretch of about 420 feet going west from Boundary Marker 102, the exact starting point of the AZT. Going further west across the San Rafael Valley to the Patagonia Mountains, no tall walls have been built. The valley border remains as the same six- or seven-strand barbed wire and RR-rail “vehicle barrier” it’s been for about 50 years.

The AZT’s first mile remained closed to the public for almost another year, for a total closure of 18 months, while the Dept. of Homeland Security, Interior Department, US Forest Service and the National Park Service assessed conditions after the construction stoppage and discussed remediation strategies.

In April 2021, NBC reported on the environmental legacy of the wall’s construction in an article titled “Why the Environmental Crisis Sparked by Trump’s Border Wall May Be Irreparable.” Nationally, opposition to the border wall on ecological grounds has been coming continuously from scientists and activists since President Trump’s initiation of the project in 2017. Sources of resistance included The Center for Biological Diversity, National Geographic, and articles in the journal ‘Bioscience.’ One ‘Bioscience’ article published in 2018, included ecologists Paul Ehrlich and E O Wilson, and was titled “Nature Divided, Scientists United: US-Mexico Border Wall Threatens Biodiversity and Binational Conservation.” Jennifer Miller, one of the authors of the article, wrote “This would be the only wall on earth that would split a continent.” Besides Miller’s co-authors, the report had been signed onto by 2,700 other scientists from 50 countries, but it did not modify or stop the wall. It took replacing the President to accomplish that, resulting in a shift to remediation of damage done, with at least Arizona details now being worked out.

The first mile was reopened on Jan 1, 2022. On January 4, the Customs and Border Protection agency (CPB) posted an Arizona Border Barrier Remediation Plan for Pima, Cochise, and Santa Cruz Counties, with a request for citizen comment by February 3. The remediation work is likely to take 12-18 months and may result in re-closure of AZT’s first mile.

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