East of the Buffalo Park parking lot, along a path that stretches south to Mexico and north to Utah, there stands a large metal trailhead tribute to Dale Shewalter. Dale was the Flagstaff visionary, teacher, geologist, cyclist, equestrian, hiker, runner, and adventurer whose persistence and leadership in pursuit of his vision produced a gem among Arizona’s crown of wonders, and an internationally recognized asset to Flagstaff: the Arizona National Scenic Trail (ANST).
Dale began traversing the state in 1985, scouting a continuous north-south route for his envisioned multi-use path linking deserts, mountains, wetlands and forests. His unflagging enthusiasm motivated the efforts of thousands of volunteers and agency personnel, inspired funding from individuals, businesses and partners to create the 800-mile trail.
In March 2009, Congress conferred the National Scenic Trail designation, ensuring — in Dale's words — that “the trail will be an adventure for generations of outdoors people to enjoy, and the magic of Arizona’s landscape will be shared with the world.” Recently, the ANST was included among The Guardian's list of 10 Epic Long Distance Walks Around the World.
This year approximately 200 hikers and bikers will complete the entire distance and thousands more will traverse one or more passages. Multi-use? You betcha! In 2016, three people completed the Trail on unicycles.
“How long does it take?” I am often asked. The answer depends on your style and your goal. On the speedy end, one woman thru-hiked, self-supported, in a record-setting 19 days. It’s been biked in seven days and horsebacked in 28. A husband-wife duo did a "yo-yo" (Mexico–Utah–Mexico) in 93 days. But two months is a rough average time for all thru-hikers, with many taking time to smell the flowers and enjoy leisurely journeys with rest days. Winter users traverse on skis and snowshoes. Some have completed the Trail via a combination of hiking, biking, riding and skiing.
Together with others, Dale also founded the Arizona Trail Association (ATA), whose mission is to protect, maintain, enhance, promote and sustain the ANST as a unique encounter with the land. The website www.aztrail.org has extremely useful information for everyone and special access to maps and other data for members.
In 2010 Dale lost his battle with cancer, and was eulogized as “an Arizona schoolteacher with an 800-mile shadow.” Within that shadow, and in Dale’s honor, the ATA launched their Seeds of Stewardship Program, a youth outreach initiative designed to foster lifelong connections to the outdoors and to the Trail among middle and high school students.
Learning is also shared through the Trail Skills Institute, a cooperative program with American Conservation Experience, to train trail stewards, trail crews and other community members in the finer points of building and maintaining sustainable trails.
Flagstaff is an ANST Gateway Community, so each fall it celebrates the ANST and the work of the ATA with a free community event at Buffalo Park. This year’s Arizona Trail Day will be Saturday, Sept. 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Last year's Trail Day celebrated Dale and the legacy he left us. This year we will celebrate and thank the many businesses and agencies that support the ATA's work. Trail Day will feature sponsor and partner booths, activities for children and adults, informational hikes, a trail run, a beer garden, food and a raffle.
In addition, this summer ATA members will march in Flagstaff's Fourth of July parade and staff a booth at the Coconino County Fair.
Flagstaff has more ANST access points than any other Gateway Community in Arizona. Hikers spend time here resting tired feet, restocking supplies, enjoying craft beer and fine food, and hanging out with friends and family. Flagstaff merchants and moteliers appreciate the business.
Local ANST access points include trailheads at Picture Canyon, Buffalo Park and Aspen Loop. One mile up from the Lake Mary Narrows parking lot there's an exquisite overlook just before intersecting the ANST on Anderson Mesa. Between Happy Jack and Tusayan, there are dozens of other options for easily accessed ANST day hikes through forests, prairies and mesas.
Experience this world-class gem in your backyard. I promise you'll love Dale's idea. See you on the Trail, at the parade, at the county fair and on Trail Day!