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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Park Staff, Volunteers Reworking South Mountain Trails

Erosion, over-use and visitors going off designated trails have combined to make South Mountain Park/Preserve long overdue for maintenance.

“Unfortunately, these trails get loved to death,” said Phoenix Parks Ranger III Sue Arbogast.

That’s why users are seeing more efforts lately to fix areas that are in the worst shape.
Rangers, in cooperation with volunteer groups, have re-routed and rehabilitated trails in a several spots, including the 35th Avenue and T-Bone trails.

The original 35th Avenue Trail, which starts at the foot of 35th Avenue, goes to the San Juan Lookout and links to the Alta Trail, was never a designated trail. It became a popular “wildcat” route through years of use.

However, it was on private property, and the developer fenced it off and planned to build houses on it, Arbogast said. That effectively blocked a major access point for local residents.

“The boundary between the park and private property is not well-marked, necessarily,” said Michael Baker of Scottsdale, president of Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona.

His group worked with park rangers to design and build a designated trail that runs higher up on the hillside, above the private property line. They created all of the major drainage crossings using heavy rock, which will help stave off erosion.

In order to get it built quickly, the group built a half-width trail in January 2008 and later in the year, working with volunteers from REI, widened and finished it.

“It’s a much nicer trail,” Baker said, “because you get up on the side of the hill. Before, you were on the flatter portion. You couldn’t see much of anything.”

The T-Bone Trail, so named because it runs to the T-Bone Restaurant, is another route that’s seen plenty of work. It’s mainly used by horse riders and some hikers, Arbogast said. It’s a link from the Big and Little Ramadas to 19th Avenue. The Ponderosa Stables on Central Avenue does dinner rides there and back.

“It’s a wonderful trail,” Arbogast said. “I took a friend for her birthday and did the trail and did the dinner.”
The section near Little Ramada has stayed in good shape, she said. In some parts, though, the trail was trenched so badly – up to four feet deep in spots – that riders’ stirrups would get caught in the dirt. At one spot, she pointed out how water would run straight down the hill and get caught in the trail, creating a trough.

Rangers Don Gumeringer and Craig Kosturik supervised an Eagle Scout project to re-route the water by creating barriers using natural rock from the park.

“Any of this big rock will slow it down and keep the water going in the direction it’s supposed to go,” Arbogast said.

On some trails, rangers can use mechanized equipment, but they must do the work by hand on the T-Bone trail. They try to work two to three days a week on the trail, Arbogast said, and make every effort not to disrupt park users.

“We try to be real conscientious about the times we work and the places we work,” she said.

Though South Mountain Park/Preserve Supervisor Kim Keith was re-assigned earlier this year to a different role and Rick Plautz took over, his vision for widespread trail rehabilitation efforts through the city park system will continue, Arbogast said. They need more volunteers, she added.

Also, “One of the big things we’ve really embraced as a department is the ‘leave no trace’ ethic,” she said.

While state and national parks have long encouraged visitors to “take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints,” the city wants to do more to get that message to users.

“We really have a unique resource that needs to be preserved,” Arbogast said.

How to help your parks

Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona has opportunities for improving parks throughout the state: www.voaz.org

Outdoor Volunteer links to a variety of conservation groups: www.outdoorvolunteer.org

Phoenix Parks has volunteer park stewards who assist with all aspects of maintaining the parks: phoenix.gov/parks; click on “Trails & Desert Preserves” and then “Volunteer Opportunities”

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