Trail work with Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center

On March 30th, 2019, 7 students from the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center left for a mission to repair the Arizona Trail. Stewardship is a key characteristic of the program. Students spend the first four expeditions gaining experience and developing a deeper relationship toward trails and the landscapes which they move through. For the final expedition, we intended to train students in effective and safe tool use, to teach students what trail repair is and why we do it, and to work together as a team to repair portions of the Arizona Trail that were in disarray. Our destination was the AZT at the Hershaw Trail Head moving northbound. Winter storms caused a lot of damage to the trail and our goal was to make it safe and passable for all types of users. 

March still carries the cool weather from deep winter, though in the air and with the intensity of the summer it is easy to feel summers approach. Before moving into the trail work, we pulled out the tools and began explaining the purpose for each and how to properly use them. Some students were experienced and seemed confident in their skills. For others, this was the first time they had ever seen tools like this. “What are the different types of users on The Arizona Trail?” This was a loaded question for this group. On previous outings, we partnered with the Pheonix Zoo to install motion sensitive cameras with the intention of seeing who it was that uses The Arizona Trail. “Deer! Javalina! Hunters! Horse riders! Foxes! Mountain Lions!” the list continued and continued. “Exactly! And we need to make sure that it is usable for all the different groups, not just the small or tall!”

The first portion of our hike was dedicated to instruction and example. How to properly cut, how to properly dig, how to properly lift and move. I reminded the students that this trail moves through the homes of many different animals in this area, and our work is inherently destructive. Our job is to do what is necessary to make the trail usable while respecting and promoting the health of the landscape we are in. “What good is a trail if everything around it is destroyed or ugly?” This point is important because there is little more that youth love more than to use a pick-mattock to its fullest potential. Making sure students stay respectful and intentional is absolutely key. 

Most of our work came down to rock work, building water bars, and improving and creating drainages. The recent rains flooded boulders and rocks onto the trail, making it a sure way to bend an ankle for clumsy human users. We lifted and moved nearly a hundred large rocks from the trail, either burying them to make water bars, or lining the trail to help hold soil from being eroded. This was tough work for the kids, some of whom were not much larger than the rocks we were lifting! Trailwork is an activity that helps students understand erosive forces, water movement, the resilience and sensitivity of plants, and the effort required to maintain or build a trail. 

The day finished with sweat and heavy breathing. It was a lot of work under an intense March sun. By the end of the day, a lot of work had been completed. 3 drainages and 2 water bars were installed, lots of rocks moved off the trail, and a lot of fun was had. It was another wonderful and successful season with Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center. The students left feeling prideful and excited and the trail was left looking better than ever and ready for the next rainy season.