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Iconic 50: FUTS

The Flagstaff Urban Trail System is a city treasure.

A budding local trail program is hoping to get feedback from every corner of Flagstaff to help them shape the future of Flagstaff’s trails through their new master planning document.

The Flagstaff Trails Initiative (FTI) will conduct a presentation on the new document at Tuesday's Flagstaff City Council meeting.

The FTI's master document was built through the work of volunteers who evaluated how Flagstaff's 413 miles of official trails could be better connected, more sustainable and better maintained. The document is called the Flagstaff Regional Trail Strategy, which the initiative hopes to continually update with continuous surveys in the coming years. The document is downloadable online and will be presented at multiple public meetings.

Local Debbie McMahon traveled with a group of volunteer surveyors and filled out questions evaluating the status of all 413 miles of trail. She said she has loved the outdoors all of her life and is a part of the Rim to Rim Hiking Club, Sierra Club and Audubon Bird Society.

“It’s been fantastic, really been great,” McMahon said. “We all care about the environment, the flora and fauna, and what’s going to happen to the trails. We know that we need to get them up to date.”

Overall, there were 40 to 50 volunteers acting as “citizen planners” in areas like education, outreach and surveying. McMahon wanted as many people to contribute as possible, whether through volunteering, reading and responding to the planning document, or coming to future events.

“We need volunteers. We need everybody involved,” McMahon said. “It’s our community, our forests, our lands.”

The document only lists recommendations, not demands or actions; it's up for the individual trail managers from each agency to pay attention to the document. FTI's leadership ensures those trail managers will pay attention because those trail managers are on the board of the FTI.

Some high priority trail recommendations made at the end of the project include adopting unauthorized trails on Lowell Observatory for improvement and the Dogfood Engineer trail as a shared, nonmotorized system trail to disperse use in Schultz and Fort Valley. The document lists over 50 other recommendations for trails rated from high to medium to low priority.

There is also a second list that has recommendations for new trailheads and better access. Two suggestions include constructing a trailhead at the “Y” intersection of Schultz Pass Road and Elden Lookout Road to access the Schultz Creek area, and constructing a new trailhead at the Loop Trail along Lake Mary Road to accommodate demand. This list of recommendations is smaller and includes 20 based on differing priorities.

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The document is by no means final, but it also is not meant to be. FTI wants people to continue to return to their document and provide feedback as FTI’s goals and recommendations develop, even after they present it to agencies. This strategy is a part of FTI’s goal to become the center for trail culture, outreach and fundraising regardless of how you recreate or where in Flagstaff you recreate.

“This isn’t a sort of one-and-done situation,” Leto said. “We hope that FTI continues to grow and build and work for many, many years to come.”

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An important note, however, is that any work done on Arizona Snwobowl or the Mount Elden Dry Lake Hills is beyond the scope of their project.

Trails aren’t cheap, as many volunteers learned through the process. Paved surface like some parts of the Flagstaff Urban Trail is one of the most expensive forms of trail, costing $1 million to $1.2 million to construct per mile, according to the FTI document. Natural singletrack trail is cheaper and costs $25,000 to $56,000 per mile to construct.

By contrast, the Coconino National Forest, City of Flagstaff and Coconino County have only budgeted one person per each agency to oversee trail management, according to the document.

“I don’t see monumental money coming from Congress, and it really depends on the local community,” Quintile said. “That’s where trails (need) stewardship by getting private and non-profit involved in this to fill in this pretty huge gap.”

So in addition to creating a source where all trail planning can begin from, FTI hopes to become an official nonprofit in the coming months to begin taking private and public donations and put their money where their mouth is.

Justin Inglis, FTI education and outreach coordinator, said he was looking forward to organizing trail events where he can help teach novices and experts alike how to become better stewards of trails. Inglis cited a tourism study showing 31% of tourists in Flagstaff are drawn to the city because of the trail system as why this should be important for the public and business owners alike.

“It’s public land that requires public effort,” Inglis said. “We need to go ahead and get this work done, not ask the government to do it for us. No middle man. You’re profiting off of it. You should give back to it."

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Scott Buffon can be reached at sbuffon@azdailysun.com, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.

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