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Forest Service releases Mount Elden, Dry Lake Hills future trail plan, seeks public feedback
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Forest Service releases Mount Elden, Dry Lake Hills future trail plan, seeks public feedback

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The "Oldham Steps," officially known as the Lower Oldham Trail, climbs more than 700 feet in 2 miles along the slopes of Mount Elden.

The Coconino National Forest’s Flagstaff Ranger District is releasing today a new plan to add 55 miles of trails to the official U.S. Forest Service system in the Mount Elden, Dry Lake Hills (MEDL) area.

The 55 miles came together through a combination of adopting unauthorized trails and building new ones, according to Coconino National Forest recreation and wilderness staff member Patrick McGervey. The plan is intended to create more sustainable trails while increasing the capacity of one of the Flagstaff Ranger District’s most highly used hiking areas.

The Flagstaff Trails Initiative convened a working group of invested conservationists and outdoor organizations in the community to submit joint suggestions to help guide the Forest Service in their efforts before the proposed action was released. While the group did not agree on everything, it finished its suggestions and submitted the proposal for the Forest Service to consider in April.

The Arizona Daily Sun was given early access to a portion of the plans for the area that is to include multiple new loop systems and trailheads meant to support different outdoor communities such as equestrian, biking, hiking, climbing and urban trail users.

The Forest Service’s release today will ask that people submit comments of support or suggest changes to the plan.

Maps and documents will be available online, and those interested have until Sept. 28 to submit comments. Forest officials also hope to host virtual information sessions for people as the September deadline approaches.

The MEDL trail system was first dedicated in 1987. From the rocky boulders and cliffs to the mixed conifer forests amid the ponderosa pine, the forests are home to a wide variety of archaeological treasures, wildlife habitats and beloved human trails.

Within the project area, there are six trailheads providing access to 14 designated Forest Service trails -- which include the Arizona National Scenic Trail, Flagstaff Loop Trail and historic Beale Wagon Trail.

The area hosts a wide variety of uses from equestrians at nearby campgrounds and special races in the area throughout the summer.

The MEDL recreation plan was first introduced in 2013. The Forest Service hosted informative public meetings and more than 100 comments were submitted at the time. The project, however, was delayed due to Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project forest thinning operations in the Dry Lake Hills.

McGervey said the Forest Service considered the 2013 form of the project, but is now excited to hear more public feedback after such a long delay.

“We really want to hear from people,” McGervey said. “With the proposal out there, it is a clean slate. We are open to other ideas and other concepts.”

With the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project's work changing focus from the Dry Lake Hills to Mormon Mountain, the hills have more space for new projects to begin. Since the project was delayed, the thinning operations, Museum Fire and other trail rehabilitations have changed the grounds.

Flagstaff District Ranger Matt McGrath also pointed out that the area has become a hotspot for traffic out of Phoenix and other areas that has increased in the past few years.

“What we tried to do is look to the future and ask what kind of trails does the public need to provide the great recreation experience while also preserving and protecting resources,” McGrath said.

Using the recommendations from the FTI working group and 2013 comments, the Forest Service has been able to receive input from high-valued stakeholders and parts of the public before allowing the entire public to share their thoughts on the new plans.

Proposed action

The new system includes many different miles of trails dedicated to preferred conditions of various types of activities.

McGervey said the plan includes building three new, dense loop trail systems at the Y intersection of Mount Elden Lookout Road and Schultz Pass Road, Sandy Seep and Heart Trails, and Elden Springs areas. The areas are currently planned to have about 10 miles of trails in each.

Staff believe dense loop systems would cut down on confrontations on trails, and provide a variety of paths in already highly used areas across the Flagstaff District.

“Instead of 50 miles of trails across the whole landscape, we can focus on areas people want to be in and make it more dense rather than spreading that trail density across the whole landscape,” McGervey said.

Additionally, the total mileage includes portions that will be focused on to support different parts of the outdoor community, including:

• up to 10 miles for equestrians,

• 4 and a half miles for directional mountain biking with increased challenge,

• 9 and a half miles for hikers and climbers,

• and 6 and a half miles of highly developed urban trails.

The plan will choose certain trailheads for modifying, improving and constructing with the goal of improving capacity, access and efficient management. The area plan suggests improving signs, education, interpretation and trails in the Mount Elden Environmental Study Area. It will also naturalize and decommission at least 7 miles of unauthorized trails for resource protection.


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