Pine section of Arizona Trail re-routed

Payson Roundup (October 6, 2020) by Michele Nelson

The Arizona Trail Association knows no hiker enjoys walking along a forest service road, especially when power lines accompany the route.

“Roads suck,” said Matthew Nelson, executive director of the ATA.

But that’s exactly what hikers on the Arizona Trail’s Passage 25 found between the East Verde River and Pine. Adding insult to injury, the road had a lot of volcanic rock.

“It is chunky boulders that goes on for miles and miles,” said Nelson.

But not for long. The ATA has broken ground on a re-route that will turn a rocky road into a smooth single track.

In terms of through hikes, the Arizona Trail is young. It was only completed in 2011 making it the youngest through trail in the U.S. To complete the trail, builders relied on old wagon roads and cattle trails, not as beautiful as single track trails to hikers.

Although new, the Arizona Trail has gained a reputation as extreme due to the lack of water and topography. As well, the remote trailheads make resupply difficult. But this kind of reputation attracts super athletes who compete for the quickest through hike or the most Yo-Yo trips from north to south in a year.

The trail attracts not only national hikers, but international hikers to see some of the most breathtaking parts of Arizona. About 30% of the trail winds its way through Gila County. The AZT starts down in the Superstition Wilderness near Superior and ends past Pine at the top of the Mogollon Rim.

But Passage 25 “has long been among the most hated segments of the trail,” said Nelson.

So, after many years of planning, environmental studies, fundraising and collaboration, the ATA recently broke ground on a reroute of Passage 25. This will cut off the road portion and replace it with a single-track trail.

The re-route uses Alder Ridge to dip down into and then out of Rock Creek, a major drainage area.

“The topography is extreme,” said Nelson, which will require engineering feats and rock work to keep the grades at a reasonable angle “so it’s never too steep.” Trails built too steep rut and wear away in the rushing water of monsoon storms, but correctly engineer against the fall line and a trail will hold up for years, say trail building organizations.

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