Springtime on the Arizona Trail – a letter from the Executive Director

Yesterday I spent a few hours exploring the Arizona Trail in southern Arizona. Ocotillo flowers created a bright red canopy while yellow brittlebush and pink penstemon decorated the desert floor. Everyone I encountered along the trail was smiling and enjoying a beautiful spring day outdoors. The trail was in great condition, and I noticed recent signs of tread repair and catclaw acacia removal. Thank you, segment stewards! The steel cattleguard rollovers were very much appreciated, and the rattlesnake mural under I-10 is always a pleasant surprise. My time alone on the trail provided an opportunity to be grateful for the community that makes the Arizona Trail so strong. It was a welcome respite from the stress and anxiety that have dominated my consciousness over the past month.

The COVID-19 crisis has profoundly impacted the Arizona Trail Association. Volunteer trail work gatherings have been cancelled; special events postponed; youth outreach programs on hold; and many reliable sources of funding have dried up. But the one thing that remains constant is the Arizona Trail remains open and welcomes you to practice social distancing while hiking, running or riding through breathtaking landscapes. In times of uncertainty, the trail is a portal into a calmer, more beautiful reality. I sincerely hope you’re able to enjoy the AZT this season.

The ATA is proud that the trail is free and open to all, but please remember that it takes a strong organization to protect and maintain 800 miles of trail. We know these are among the most difficult financial times in recent history, and that everyone is feeling the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. We also know the Arizona Trail is important to you, and remains a refuge for you to connect with Arizona’s wild landscapes. As we attempt to raise the funds necessary to sustain the ATA, please think about what your experiences on the AZT are worth, and donate appropriately. Your support has never been more important than now.

When you donate or renew your membership you’ll help support our core programs:

Trail Operations – while most of our volunteer activities are suspended we are still able to employ conservation corps and contractors to tackle priority projects on the Arizona Trail. Just a few of the trail improvements projects in the queue include:

  • Geronimo Spring Repair (repairing a dangerous blowout on the Highline Passage)
  • Babbitt Ranch Singletrack (building the remaining 5 miles to finish this effort to remove the AZT from dirt roads north of Flagstaff)
  • Mazatzal Maintenance (removing downed trees and repairing eroding tread deep within the Mazatzal Wilderness)
  • Temporal Gulch Reroute (building 32 miles of trail to replace paved and dirt roads near Patagonia)

Volunteer Program – since it’s not safe to bring groups of people together right now we are developing a series of trail maintenance videos that will make our Trail Skills Institute and Trail Steward trainings more accessible for all. We’re also working on a more comprehensive loaner tool program for existing volunteers to get the tools and personal protective equipment they need to do basic maintenance on the AZT. With your support we can take our Volunteer Program to the next level while adapting to current challenges.

Seeds of Stewardship – although schools are shuttered through the end of the semester our Youth Outreach & Education Coordinators are hard at work developing do-it-yourself itineraries that support state educational standards to share with students in Arizona Trail Gateway Communities. Our goal is to continue to engage and inspire youth to explore the Arizona Trail with their families close to home, using the AZT as an outdoor classroom and a pathway for wellness. Your support of this program will help keep our talented Coordinators employed during this challenging time.

If you recently received a stimulus check from the federal government, consider donating a portion of it to the ATA. As you may have heard, you can take up to a $300 deduction when you donate to nonprofit organizations even if you don’t itemize (a new provision under the CARES Act). Please consider donating $30 a month until the end of the year to help protect, maintain and sustain the Arizona Trail as a unique encounter with the land. You can do that as an automatic monthly payment through this website.

Your support during this season is incredibly important, as the economic impacts from coronavirus are devastating to our programs, operations and staff. Working together, I have no doubt the Arizona Trail will remain an important resource for the health and wellness of locals and visitors alike. We will continue to engage thousands of citizen stewards in the maintenance and protection of the trail, and the AZT will play an important role in our state’s economic recovery. We will get through this.

With gratitude,

Matthew J. Nelson, Executive Director