About a week ago, Flagstaff resident Adam Paquette was among many taking advantage of warming weather to hit the trails as he steered his bike up the Big Bang Trail near Schultz Creek.
“[The trail was] completely clear and in good condition,” Paquette said. “Almost crashed; but that’s more at fault for my ability that the trail.”
Paquette had chosen to ride Big Bang after seeing its status on Flagstaff Trail Updates Instagram page, a grassroots, community social media effort created to get information to the public about the condition of trails all around Flagstaff.
For close to three years, the page has been a go-to for residents of Flagstaff and visitors alike who are looking to hit the trails -- be it in the seat of a bike, a horse, a dirt bike or just on their own two legs, hiking or running.
“I’m eagerly waiting for them to say Sunset [trail] is clear,” said Paquette, who uses the source in addition to a few other websites and apps to monitor what trails might be fit to be ridden.
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“I keep an eye on it, and it’s useful as a local barometer of clear trails. I also like it as info for [volunteer] trail days,” Paquette said.
That sentiment is exactly the goals of the page, said Trey Kettering, one of about three people who manage the account.
Kettering said the majority of the information they post about trail conditions comes from the community. He added that he hopes the page can be a resource for all the user groups that recreate around Flagstaff -- be they cyclists, equestrians or hikers.
“People come together through Instagram direct messages, and people will tag us in their Instagram stories so we can re-post it,” Kettering told the Arizona Daily Sun. “There are a lot of different people, a lot of people that come up from the Valley or Tucson in the summer, who know about the account and tag us, and there's a lot of people that live here that consistently tag the account.”
That’s important, Kettering said, not just for the enjoyment of those using the trails around Flagstaff, but also the trails themselves.
When people recreate on trails that aren’t ready, if those trails are still wet and muddy, that can damage the trails for everyone else, Kettering said. And many of those trails are built in large part by volunteers.
"We just have to recognize that these trails take 1,000s of hours to build, and that volunteers spent their own weekends out there,” Kettering said. “We should really respect this public resource that we have and respect the other people that are using it.”
Kettering is often one of the volunteers building trails. To that end, Artec Durham, who started the page in the midst of 2020, says he also works with the Coconino National Forest to publicize information about when and where those volunteer events are taking place.
But updating the public as to trail conditions wasn’t the only goal of the page for the man who started it.
Durham started the updates as ever more people were getting outdoors to escape the claustrophobia of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between shifts working as a nurse at the height of the pandemic, Durham would recreate outside to decompress, and he was often asked by other recreationists about which trails might be clear and usable.
“I was out every day on my bike, or hiking, and people are always asking me, "What’s dry, what are you riding?" Because in the middle of winter in Flagstaff, you can often go on lower south-facing stuff,” Durham said. “So I was like, ‘Well, I'm just going to make a trail updates Instagram account for trail conditions.’”
And almost immediately, he other community members started tagging the account to report the conditions on trails they were using.
Durham said he hopes the page can continue to be a resource -- not just to get trail condition updates out, but also get more young people involved in managing and supporting outdoor recreation in northern Arizona.
During the development of the Flagstaff Trails Initiative, Durham said, he was always discouraged by how few young people were involved in those conversations about the future of recreation around Flagstaff, despite making up a huge portion of those who use trails.
That project is an effort to examine how to manage and grow the over 400 miles of trails around Flagstaff.
“I was going to a lot of those meetings, and I'd be the youngest person at these meetings in my mid-30s, and it just seemed like there was a real generational void of anyone really under like 50 at a lot of these events,” Durham said. “So how do we reach the younger generation of users to be involved in trails?”
Durham said he thought something that could help generate more involvement was a way to communicate some of that information through a medium that younger recreationists are already using, and be more proactive in reaching out to a younger generation.
“Potentially, the bigger part of that isn’t which trail to try, that’s important, but also like, ‘Hey, there’s a dig day, come out and help build trials, there’s a survey on trails, fill out the survey,’ and reaching a whole swath of people who weren't involved in trails before,” Durham said.