New life breathed into historic trail

Payson Roundup (April 29, 2022) by Michele Nelson

Cheers and applause greeted the cutting of the ribbon to launch Phase 1 of the Highline Restoration Project on April 23.

Partners that helped raise $350,000 to fund the completion of Phase 1 of the Highline celebrated at the Pine Trailhead with awards, locally made empanadas from Strawberry’s Pie Bar and hugs with Smokey Bear.

“(The Phase 1) portion was funded through a combination of federal grant dollars, state grant dollars, along with funds through REI, and the Catena Foundation,” said Angela Abel, the Payson Ranger Station recreation officer spearheading Forest Service support for the project.

Local partners for the project include the Pine-Strawberry Fuel Reduction, Inc., the Mogollon Sporting Association, the MHA Foundation, Friends of the Tonto Forest, the Arizona Trail Association, the Youth Conservation Corps, and Wild Arizona. National support came from the Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation, the REI and Catena foundations.

But Abel will welcome more help anytime.

“As far as volunteers — there is always a need,” she said. “Our goal is to create a Highline Trail stewardship program (modeled after the Arizona Trail Association’s program) where folks “adopt” a certain piece of trail for monitoring and light maintenance.”

Abel said there’s always a need for clearing and trimming trails, doing light maintenance or repair, especially after heavy monsoon events. Please email her if interested in volunteering:

Although a core of volunteer organizations made the restoration project possible, much of the more remote and technical work requires a professional trail building company. Flagline Trails, owned and operated by Matt Roberts, formerly the director of the Conservation Corps, a national youth organization that helps with trail building, forest restoration and other projects, uses machinery to re-route rough remote trail.

Once done, the Highline Trail will stretch for 60 miles along the base of the Mogollon Rim from the Pine Trailhead to the 260 Trailhead below Woods Canyon Lake.

The first phase will upgrade the Highline Trail between the Pine Trailhead and Washington Park. Flagline has already started work and plans to finish this phase by December.

Abel isn’t wasting any time getting funding for Phase 2, however.

“For Phase 2 (Washington Park Trail Head to — the 260 Trailhead) we are currently in partnership with both the National Forest Foundation and Wild AZ applying for State RTP (Recreational Trails Program) Grants,” she said. “If successful we will have most all of Phase 2 funded.”

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