While all around us we see increasing divisiveness, polarization and mistrust, we in Prescott have something living and growing in our community that spans political and other divides, something that’s being held up across the state as a model for cooperation and accomplishment: the remarkable cooperative network of trail users and volunteers that comprise the Prescott Trails Safety Coalition.
This is the most satisfying piece I’ve written to date for this publication.
Representatives from Prescott Trail Riders, the Prescott Mountain Bikers Alliance, Yavapai Trails Association and Back Country Horsemen of Central Arizona meet on a regular basis with City and Forest Service representatives to work together on how to keep our trails in good shape and foster safe trail use and good trail etiquette among the diverse user groups. I spoke with individuals in leadership roles in these groups, and every one spoke with great enthusiasm about how much they have accomplished together. In the course of many interviews with these leaders, each person I spoke with made a point to acknowledge the support and cooperation of the other groups in the coalition.
Runners, hikers, mountain bikers, motorcyclists and equestrians all enjoy Prescott’s many trails. Anyone who uses them encounters people from other groups, and sometimes those encounters can be tense. Mountain bikes move fast and make no noise. On trails where there are limited lines of sight, you don’t always hear them coming. In sharing the trails, everyone involved must strive for safe and considerate practices.
Some years ago, after an unfortunate encounter between a mountain biker and an equestrian, the Prescott Trails Safety Coalition came together to cultivate in all trail-user groups a sense of shared interest in and responsibility for our extensive trail system. The group initially included hikers, mountain bikers and horsemen, but when the dirt-bikers heard about the initiative, they wanted to be involved too. Prescott Trail Riders actually paid to have new brochures printed so that dirt-bikers and other motorcyclists could be part of this working group.
In researching the various groups cited here, I chose first to check out the group I had the least personal connection with, Prescott Trail Riders. While many local trails do not allow motorized vehicles, there is an extensive network of trails available to the many dirt-bike and ATV riders. The core mission of PTR is to not just enjoy but also care for the trails.
To get a feel for the group, I drove up early on a Saturday morning past Groom Creek to a spot where PTR was having a workday to address issues on the Kendall Camp Trail. This trail was slated for closure by the Forest Service, but because it is so valued by dirt-bikers as a connector to many other trails, PTR offered to focus its energy on maintaining the trail to keep it safe and accessible.
These guys take their work seriously. About 15 PTR members showed up, some with bikes, some with ATVs, which are handy for getting tools and equipment to worksites. There was also a trailer that PTR purchased for tools. With its motorized capacity, PTR can work on trails that others can’t get to as easily.
Trail-work days are regular events for each of the groups, and they share quarterly workdays, where anyone is welcome to meet up for trail work. Each group posts its own workdays on its website, plus the shared workdays.
These organized workdays are always led by a volunteer who has had safety training through the Forest Service. Hard hats are required, there is a first-aid kit, a Forest Service radio and an AED on site. Each group also carries its own insurance in case of accidents.
Work includes cleaning up brush, digging, fixing drainage and improving lines of sight to make a given spot safer for multiple users. All helpers are welcome, even if not everyone can move rocks or swing a pick, and these days are great opportunities to interact with people you might never otherwise encounter.
I spoke at length with current PTR President Barrett Johnson, whose enthusiasm and respect for the willingness of all the user groups to work together was impressive. Barrett spoke of the Greater Prescott Trail Plan (found on the PNF website) and how the various user groups have created five- and ten-year plans for trail maintenance, which trails will be closed and which created.
The area included in the GPTP extends from Chino Valley south to Goodwin St., west to Tonto Road and east to Prescott Valley. The program includes both environmental and archaeological studies, and the interests and input of all user groups are valued (“all hands, all lands”). The GPTP is held up across the state as a model of what communities should be doing to support local trail systems.
You can learn about how the GPTP originated and how its work is moving forward by visiting the Greater Prescott Trails website. The initiative cites as its ‘crown jewel’ the popular Prescott Circle Trail, a 56–mile loop encircling Prescott across jurisdictional boundaries of City, County, National Forest and private lands. Surely this demonstrates some serious cooperation!
I asked leaders of other user groups how they address issues and work to avoid trail tensions. Ximena Flores, president of the Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance (PMBA), pointed to the value of the Safety Coalition meetings for sharing any recent encounters and work on preventing them through signage and education. It’s important that all trail users, including visitors from out of town, see signs at the trailheads indicating safety and etiquette recommendations.
One recent initiative is working to provide bells for mountain-bikers at trailheads, which they can use and return or just keep. Sounding a bell as you approach a blind turn alerts others to step aside and avoid what could be an unpleasant encounter.
All of these user groups strongly promote to value of creating open lines of sight when working on trails, for the safety of all. Ximena, who moved to this area from the east coast, spoke enthusiastically about how well all the user groups work together to keep our trails safe. “When you compare what happens here versus what happens in other areas, the relationship between the Forest Service and the City is something to be admired. Both really are focusing on working together, helping each other, not necessarily financially, but more on providing volunteers, tools and support of any kind. It’s really unique to Prescott.”
In the course of all the interviews conducted for this article, one name came up repeatedly. Ann Hendrickson moved here three years ago from the east, having spent ten years as a volunteer crew leader on the Appalachian Trail. She has extensive experience working with the various entities managing wild lands, including the Forest Service and the Blue Ridge Parkway. In her work back east she encountered lots of conflict on multi-use trails.
When Ann moved here she immediately sought out the trails and was invited to join the board of the Yavapai Trails Association, a coalition of non-motorized trail users. “I have never, in all my years of involvement with trails, whether on the state level, national level or local level, ever found a group of users that work more closely together.”
Cultivating this relationship among the groups takes a lot of work. In addition to regular meetings and trail work days, all the trail groups work to raise funds through donations and grants. Groups share resources when needed for partner projects, and work actively together on planning and trail maintenance. This cooperation greatly increases the chance of winning grants, as well as funds raised through donations, which are then matched for grant projects.
YTA was one of 48 organizations in the country awarded funding recently by the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance to restore the Groom Creek Loop Trail, also known as Spruce Mountain. The grant award of $15,000 is part of a larger restoration budget. YTA has partnered with Back Country Horsemen of Central Arizona (BCHCAZ), Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance (PMBA) and the USFS of the Prescott National Forest to complete this project. This is just one example of the extensive networking going on among these trail-user groups.
Ann described another example of how trail-user groups can help each other. When discussing trail maintenance on a particular trail with someone from an equestrian group, Ann learned that there was a gate on the trail that was awkward for riders and their horses to get through because of how it opened. Ann and her trail crew took the time to change the gate so that it opened in the other direction, a small effort that made it so much easier for the horse folks to get through. If they hadn’t had the opportunity to communicate, Ann never would have known about the issue.
Of course the equestrians have been here a lot longer than the purely recreational trail users. As Ann pointed out, “We all need to be mindful of the equestrians. It’s not just a hobby; it’s a lifestyle.” Craig Ferdig, president of the Back Country Horsemen of Central Arizona (BCHCAZ), is as enthusiastic about trail-user cooperation as any of the other groups. Being friendly and considerate on the trails is the most important thing, he says, and he and his wife feel that just because horses have the right of way doesn’t mean they should rule the trail. He is as apt to tell you about a friendly encounter between a mountain biker and an equestrian as about a tense one, and stresses that when risky encounters happen, the parties involved are almost invariably apologetic.
Goodwill engenders more goodwill. If you’re hiking on a beautiful trail and meet some folks on horses coming toward you, stepping aside and pausing to chat makes everyone feel more comfortable, and you may even learn something new. It’s the same with all these groups who love to get out and enjoy our amazing trail system. Their commitment to keeping the trails safe and friendly makes it better for us all
Partnership builds trust. Please consider supporting any of these groups, whether by donating or by coming to a workday. The next YTA trail-work days will be September 16, 17, 23 and 24 on the Groom Creek Loop Trail. You can find workday schedules and other opportunities for involvement on the websites noted below.
Yavapai Trails Association: Yavapai-Trails.org
Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance: Prescottmtb.com
Back Country Horsemen ofCentral AZ: BCHCAZ.org
Over the Hill Gang: Prescott-Az.gov
Prescott Trail Riders: PrescottTrailRiders.org