Supporters of one of the state’s most important recreational trails are advocating for an injection of funding by the Arizona Legislature to help protect and advance this key resource. State funding is vital to the maintenance and protection of the Arizona Trail – the incredible 800-mile path from Mexico to Utah that connects deserts, mountains, canyons, forests, communities and people.
The Arizona Trail contributes significantly to Arizona’s $21.2 billion outdoor recreation economy, and is a treasured resource for local residents. It was designated a State Scenic Trail in 2006, and a National Scenic Trail in 2009.
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“Since the Arizona Trail State Fund was established in 2006, it has only been funded four times,” said Matthew Nelson, Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association (ATA). “Most states with National Scenic Trails within their boundaries invest in the trail’s construction, maintenance and protection. After Arizona’s significant wildfire seasons in 2019, 2020 and now in 2021, a great deal of work is needed to bring the trail back to a safe and sustainable condition.”
Currently, the Arizona Legislature is working on the State Budget, and supporters of the Arizona Trail are advocating for including a modest appropriation for the Arizona Trail State Fund. The Arizona Trail State Fund is used to hire conservation corps to conduct priority trail construction, maintenance and wildfire mitigation that are beyond the reach of most volunteers. For every dollar the State of Arizona appropriates into this fund, the nonprofit ATA matches it at least 300 percent with federal and private dollars, and volunteer in-kind labor. On average, Arizona Trail Association volunteers contribute more than 20,000 hours of labor each year, valued at more than $500,000.
The current request to Legislators is an annual appropriation of $250,000. This funding would not directly benefit the Arizona Trail Association; instead, the funds flow from Arizona State Parks & Trails directly to conservation corps, with the ATA advising on where the work is most needed and supporting conservation corps in the field.
The group’s advocacy efforts are being led by Dorn Policy Group, which has been involved with similar funding efforts in the past as well as a number of public-policy efforts designed to promote public safety, health and recreation in Arizona.
“Arizona has a proud history of celebrating its parks, trails and incredible natural beauty,” said Tom Dorn, owner of Dorn Policy Group. “We are hopeful and confident the State Legislature will see the incredible importance and value of funding key improvements and upgrades to the Arizona Trail so it can be enjoyed now and in the future.”
Starting at the U.S.-Mexico border, the 800-mile path climbs and descends from one “sky island” mountain range to another, gaining and losing thousands of feet in elevation and traversing biomes ranging from desert to boreal forest.
Continuing across the Sonoran Desert, the route crosses the Gila River, winds through the Superstition Mountains and the Mazatzal Wilderness on its way to the Mogollon Rim and majestic San Francisco Peaks. The trail north takes travelers across the Grand Canyon through billions of years of geology.
Topping out on the North Rim, conifer forests dominate the Kaibab Plateau, eventually giving way to red bluffs dotted with sagebrush as the trail nears the Utah border on the edge of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
For more information on the Arizona Trail and the ATA, visit aztrail.org.