This Wednesday, an ACE crew returns from a project on the Arizona National Scenic Trail (ANST). The project is a partnership between Tonto National Forest, Mesa Ranger District, the Arizona Trail Association, and ACE. The goal of the project is to renovate 4.6 miles of the ANST, which has suffered from decades of neglect exacerbated by significant erosion as a result of the 2012 Sunflower Fire.
After the fire, the monsoon rains ripped the original trail to pieces, and flooding caused significant sloughing from the steep slopes that are a prominent feature in the area. The initial trail is nearly indistinguishable, and hikers frequently have gotten lost in the area, making it unsafe. When renovation is complete, a portion of the ANST will be redirected from the current unsustainable trail to a new route. The new route will connect to the Cornucopia Trail, an old mining trail that is part of the state trails system in the area.
The project featured the use of one of ACE’s trail bulldozers (SWECO), which cut the initial tread of the new route and significantly lessened the work for the hand crews that followed behind. The dozer was an essential machine in the creation of the reroute because of the excessive sloughing of soil and the prodigious plant growth that had all but destroyed the old path.
The project has required two years of logistical planning, mapping, site visits, and permit acquisition. Crews can only work at the site at certain times of the year, weather permitting. The types of work that the crew focused on were trail stabilization, water, and erosion control. They used hand tools to smooth out the tread, establish the critical edge and a stable backslope, and to brush back encroaching vegetation. This work will ensure that the trail corridor is wide enough to accommodate the intended user groups and conform to USFS standards.
The crew camped just off the trail in a very remote backcountry setting, which lacked facilities but included gorgeous views of craggy mountain peaks and narrow canyons. This project will take seven weeks to complete, and afterwards the trail will be restored to a sustainable condition and will be accessible so that the public can safely enjoy the beautiful scenery and appreciate the rugged landscapes.