Involvement with the Arizona Trail
by Eric Smith
I first heard about the Arizona Trail in 1987. In 1988, while attending a volunteer conference at Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum, Dale Shewalter gave an enlightening presentation on the Arizona Trail. Progress was already underway on the four national forests. I was “hooked” from the moment I learned of the project.
In mid-1990, I called Dale to inquire where route identification and inventory/assessment work was needed, and we agreed that field research was needed in the Santa Rita Mountains. I then took two friends backpacking for four days to assess the trails, connectivity, water sources, signage, and quality of experience in that mountain range. This included assessing the Town of Patagonia for amenities. I provided my detailed report to Dale, who was then the first paid coordinator for the AZT working for the Kaibab National Forest.
In late 1992, I began attending various Arizona Trail meetings whereby statewide coordination was a major topic, as well as, the need for a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization (now ATA). By this time, all four national forests had made significant progress on the AZT, and relied heavily on Sierra Club service trips, American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacations, boy scout troops, and the 25 organizations represented with the Arizona State Committee on Trails.
In late 1993, I was hired as the third paid coordinator (Jim Schmid was second – see below) for the Arizona Trail while working for Arizona State Parks, and position was paid by the Kaibab, Coconino, Tonto, and Coronado National Forests, BLM, Grand Canyon National Park, and Arizona State Parks. At this time, 263 miles of the AZT was complete. A big focus was route identification for the gaps in the trail, developing a strong volunteer base, advocacy, and outreach work, developing trail information and maps for the many long-distance trails users inquiring, building new trail, signing existing trails as the AZT, and coordinating workshops on proper design and construction of the AZT.
There were many highlights during this period of time; many trips to the Arizona Strip working with BLM to connect to the Utah state line; many trips to the North Rim – Grand Canyon National Park for route identification; many trips to the Blue Ridge area; long hours and days for the entire stretch from Oracle to west of Superior (i.e., to include a memorable three-day horseback ride from Oracle to the Gila River with very humorous and charismatic endurance equestrians to finalize the alignment for the AZT); and much time attempting to connect the sky islands of southern Arizona. This period of time was the highlight of my Recreation Management career, as I made many friends along the entire length of the AZT. Many of us during this time convinced skeptics that the Arizona Trail was very feasible, and that progress was expeditious (i.e., we had a goal to complete by 2000, therefore a sense of urgency existed).
In late 1996, I vacated the position so that I could join the Board of Directors of the Arizona Trail Association to continue advocacy work, and promote at Arizona State Parks. I also continued to attend many work projects that were formal ATA work events with the donated trailer with trail tools.
In 1997, with close cooperation with the Coronado National Forest and a llama packer, we backpacked and installed Arizona Trail signage from the higher elevations of the Santa Catalina Mountains down to the American Flag Trailhead close to Oracle, using llamas to transport all tools and signs. Also, in 1997, we began annual REI service work weekends to dedicate a large number of volunteers to the Arizona Trail in order to construct or rebuild as much Arizona Trail in one weekend as possible. Over time, these work weekends became a joint venture between Arizona Trail Association, REI, and Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona. In the year 2001 specifically, the REI event had over 225 trail volunteers all working on the Arizona Trail. I was very proud to be a part of the planning and coordination of these events.
In 1998, being a part of the anchoring and dedication of the Arizona Trail to the Mexican border (border marker 102) was a great experience. I spent a lot of time with Dale Shewalter throughout the 1990s, and seeing his enthusiasm at this event was very gratifying since it was his dream to begin the Arizona Trail at the same location where the Spanish explorer Coronado entered the new world in 1540.
In 2004, 2005, & 2006, I had the pleasure of coordinating (as fundraisers for the ATA) three Wilderness First Aid classes specifically to benefit AZT trail stewards, land managers, and hike/ride leaders. These classes, coordinated through the National Wilderness Medicine Institute, created opportunities for AZT/ATA representatives from throughout AZ to interact.
A few things will always stand out in my mind about the Arizona Trail volunteers of the 1990s: They were not intimidated by the grand scale of the Arizona Trail; they would “punish” their own four-wheel-drive vehicle to access remote areas; they would somehow find the energy to work on the AZT after a full week at their jobs; and the amazing chemistry and humor that could be found at work events. Since there were so few of us working on the Arizona Trail, it was the common vision and passion that created the cohesiveness amongst us. It is my passion for the AZT that keeps me involved today.
Other key Individuals that played a major role in the 1980s and 1990s, and are not in any order of significance:
As Dale was seeking the endorsement of the Arizona Trail in the mid-1980s, he sought out the blessing of the Arizona Hiking and Equestrian Trails Committee (now called the Arizona State Committee of Trails). Margaret was the chairperson of this 25-member committee that represented trails interests from throughout Arizona and provided the leadership and endorsement for the AZT that was needed. She was later instrumental in creating the Arizona Heritage Fund, which ultimately funded much new Arizona Trail construction.
As the State Trails Coordinator, Pam can be credited for the major AZT milestone of formally bringing all land managers together in late 1992 to form the partnership that was much needed. Her passion for the Arizona Trail, friendship with Dale, and ability to facilitate partnerships resulted in many land managers “pooling” their monies to fund the AZT coordinator position. Only someone with Pam’s talents could have engineered such a partnership.
Dawson was Dale’s assistant in many ways: he scouted early routes with Dale, was instrumental in AZT construction on the Kaibab Plateau, and created all the early maps of the AZT (i.e., then known as Recreation Opportunity Guides). Dawson also created the concept that many passages would have their own unique variation of the Arizona Trail logo, such as the Kaibab Squirrel logo for the Kaibab Plateau.
Jim served as the second paid coordinator for the Arizona Trail while serving a special duty assignment for the Coronado National Forest (CNF). Jim’s greatest contribution is the following: While working for the Coronado National Forest – Supervisors Office, he worked tirelessly with all CNF Ranger Districts to aggressively pursue Arizona Heritage Fund Grants to build much of the Arizona Trail on the CNF. His passion for the AZT as an internal Forest Service employee even became influential with the other three national forests.
As a passionate AZT supporter, Steve was the champion for the extreme southern end and assisted greatly in anchoring the AZT at the Mexican border. He would advocate for the AZT at every opportunity and provided leadership to the Huachuca Hiking Club for adopting of the AZT through this southernmost sky island.
Larry Mutter & Ken Mahoney
These two State Trails Coordinators in the 1980s provided much statewide support to Dale in the early years of the Arizona Trail, including much visibility at State Trails Conferences, and the necessary connection to the Arizona State Committee of Trails.
As Executive Director of Arizona State Parks, Ken’s willingness to support, fund, and house the AZT Coordinator position demonstrated to land managers statewide that the Arizona Trail was an important asset to the state. Arizona State Parks was viewed as a leader in determining recreation priorities for the State, and thus the AZT benefitted from this high profile endorsement.
Holly Van Houten
As a staff member of the National Park Service’s River, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, Holly provided the leadership and coordination to the Arizona Trail Association to become fully established at the non-profit organization for the AZT and brought many insights and experiences from other trail organizations to benefit ATA.
Dean Prichard (deceased)
One of the greatest advocates the AZT has ever seen and recruited in the early years by Dale Shewalter, Dean’s High Jinks Ranch was located along the Arizona Trail southwest of Oracle. He would open his home to AZT enthusiasts without hesitation, and did much public speaking to encourage more AZT enthusiasts. Dean played a major role in identifying the alignment from Oracle to the Gila River.
Jim Martin, Anna Pfender, and Kent Taylor
In the 1990s, the largest gap in the Arizona Trail lie between Oracle and north of the Gila River (at the southern boundary of the Tonto National Forest), with over 80 miles of needed trail. Much of it lie on State Trust Lands, which are not public lands. What seemed like an impossible task, Jim, Anna, and Kent’s perseverance paid off. After the daunting task of securing the rights-of-way after significant opposition from lessees, trail construction would take many years. As a result of their dedication, the AZT through this Sonoran Desert provides an ideal fall-winter-spring destination along the AZT.
Wil Passow (deceased)
One of the greatest advocates the AZT has ever seen, and recruited in the early years by Dale Shewalter, Wil orchestrated many Sierra Club Service Trips in concert with the Globe Ranger District – Tonto National Forest in order to establish the AZT west of Superior. He did much public speaking to encourage more AZT enthusiasts and was liked by many people.
As Trails Specialist for Maricopa County Parks, Bob served as lead instructor for many AZT/ATA segment steward workshops. His knowledge of trail design, construction, and maintenance benefitted many AZT attendees to these workshops.
As the fifth paid coordinator for the Arizona Trail, Cynthia brought much structure to the overall statewide coordination of the AZT. She worked very well with all land managers and assisted with much grant writing where needed.
Once the President of the ATA, and the first to provide office space for ATA at the Dorothy Garske Center, Michael was instrumental in the early years of ATA with membership drives, member retention, producing AZT merchandise and information, and bringing many proven practices to ATA from other successful trail organizations (i.e., Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado).
As a dedicated representative for Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona, Mike brought much leadership and coordination to the annual (large scale) Arizona Trail – REI work weekends.
As the staff liaison for the Kaibab National Forest – Tusayan Ranger District, Joel completed the AZT south of Grand Canyon National Park by 1995 due to his dedication to the Arizona Trail.
Denny & Marie Heywood
Denny and Marie worked tirelessly for many years building and enhancing the Arizona Trail on the Tonto National Forest. Additionally, they would provide necessary mule packing services to other remote portions of the AZT.
Marcie DeMillion & Tom Folks
As the BLM staff members attempting to connect the AZT from the Kaibab National Forest to the Utah state line, Marcie and Tom endured and overcame much opposition to plan and build this northernmost piece of the AZT. They never gave up and saw it through to its completion and dedication. Michael Carr served as the dedicated Trail Steward for this area for many years and ensuring assessments and trail maintenance were always a high priority.
As an equestrian and champion for the AZT in southern AZT, and while working as a nurse in Bisbee, Kelly was involved with early route planning for the AZT and wrote the first (much-needed guidebook) on the AZT.
Other people whose contributions to the AZT were/are monumental:
Carl Golnick (deceased)