Around the west, many communities have fought uphill battles to help maintain, fund and build a healthy trail system.
Locally, Flagstaff Trails Initiative hopes to take on these challenges as it grows in the coming years, and has looked at what other communities around the west have been able to accomplish. Communities in Colorado, Oregon and even the city of Sedona have all found their own ways to invest in local trails to benefit their frequent and one-time trail users and businesses that depend on local tourism.
Core members with FTI have studied these projects for ideas on how to better manage Flagstaff's 413 miles of trail.
FTI’s immediate goals are to create a space for a single map used for community trail use planning, to address the dearth of funding available for trail building and maintenance, and to eventually help educate people on what sustainable trails look like.
FTI will also hold several events to rehabilitate closed and unauthorized trails and clean up graffiti. The initiative will also launch three projects to realign unsustainable trail segments, including Humphrey's Trail, Arizona National Scenic Trail on Anderson Mesa and Rocky Moto Trail.
Adam Milnor, a mentor within the initiative, said FTI will attempt to emulate other communities in certain aspects, and diverge from them in others. Regardless, they hope to move forward as a unified body, regardless of how you use trails.
“That one unified voice is often more powerful when it comes to getting resources and funding,” Milnor said.
Durango Trails 2000
Milnor said he appreciates the program in Durango, Colo. called Durango Trails 2000 for how the different partners in the region work together.
“What I like about them is they’re in the same situation: the federal land manager, county and city all found a way to work together very effectively with excellent communication,” Milnor said.
Like Flagstaff, Durango has similar landscapes, a university and an economy closely tied with outdoor recreation. Within 30 miles of downtown Durango, the region has over 300 miles of trail, according to Mary Monroe Brown, an official with Durango Trails 2000.
Brown said the organization was started in 1990 by businesspeople who mountain biked and wanted land preserved for open space to oppose development in the city. Their non-motorized trails are open to mountain biking, hiking, trail running and other uses.
“Since then, in those 30 years, we plan, build and maintain trails, educate trail users and encourage connectivity on roads, paths and trails,” Brown said. “We contribute over 4,000 volunteer hours on city open space land on the city’s 2,000 acres of open space.”
Milnor explained that although there are many similarities between FTI and the coalition, Flagstaff is growing where Durango is not.
“Flagstaff is on the way to being a small city in feel and function,” Milnor said. “Durango is still, in my reading, a small city, but it still feels like a mountain town to some extent.”
Milnor expects Flagstaff’s larger community with multiple nonprofits will make FTI a harder place to become established and receive constant funding, which is a problem faced by the next organization.
Deschutes Trails Coalition
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The Deschutes Trails Coalition in Bend, Ore. focuses on sustainable trail planning in central Oregon. Milnor said the coalition’s challenges and vision are most similar to Flagstaff's initiative.
He described Bend as a growing city with a smaller university that is focused on transportation and tourism, where the cost of living is high and people live there for the quality of life. Portland is a three-hour drive from Bend, meaning it acts a similar tourist destination for a heavy metropolitan area like Flagstaff does for Phoenix.
The U.S. Forest Service also makes up a large portion of their trail system within the Deschutes National Forest. The forest system has 2,000 miles of designated trails and likely hundreds of miles of undesignated trails, said Danielle MacBain, a Deschutes Trails Coalition representative.
The coalition has multiple funding sources including their $1 for Trails program, which allows people to add $1 to their purchase to go toward improving trail use managed by the coalition. Groups that contribute to this program include hotels and resorts.
MacBain said the coalition collects a stable $30,000 from the $1 for Trails program, but other consistent funding has been a challenge. Other contributions include reoccurring grants, donations, fundraising events and one-off grants for the group that, like FTI, is managed by a group of stakeholders.
“When the DTC formed, the decision was made to have the boundary of their work be smaller to start, with the intention of expanding as they got their feet under them,” MacBain said through email.
A challenge of the nonprofit is there are a large amounts of partners, a few subcommittees and large projects that are run by a single part-time employee.
Sedona Red Rock Trail Fund
Sedona is one of northern Arizona’s largest tourist destinations, and the Sedona Red Rock Trail Fund oversees trails in Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek.
Milnor said some goals of FTI are separate from Sedona’s fund, but the fund has provided advice and support to FTI as their initiative grows.
“I think we heard loud and clear, we think people want to be able to find peace and quiet,” Milnor said, citing FTI's four-out-of-five survey respondents that suggested as much. However, Milnor acknowledged that with Flagstaff’s growth the “peace and quiet” might be more difficult to find.
Kevin Adams, an organizer with the Sedona Red Rock Trail Fund, said before their organization there was one full-time and one seasonal worker in the area. Now, there are two full-time and 10 seasonal workers. Unlike FTI, their fund only supports the Coconino National Forest and does not build new trails.
Sedona Red Rock Trail Fund is run by a small group of 12 people that was started in 2013. Adams said a large hurdle for the fund was to educate the business community on how important the trail systems are.
“A lot of customers there are coming here for trails,” Adams said. “If you invest in trails, your customers have a good experience -- that means they want to come back.”
Sedona’s Chamber of Commerce matches the yearly donations made by 50 local businesses to make a consistent $100,000. Last year, in total, they made $351,000 for trail maintenance.
Adams said he was looking forward to seeing FTI grow, citing how close the two communities are in the “same forest, different district.”
“I ride my mountain bike up there often when it’s too hot down here,” Adams said. “A lot of folks from Flag come down here and ride in the winter. It’s the same forest.”