Many in Flagstaff love their trail systems that can help them avoid paved roads while winding through the ponderosa pines and scaling mountainsides. But love alone can’t build new trails or refurbish old ones.
Currently, the Flagstaff Trails Initiative is creating a master plan through the unified effort of agencies and citizen organizations to present one vision for the future of Flagstaff’s trail system.
Members of the initiative represent various agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, City of Flagstaff and Coconino County, and are also represented by citizen organizations like the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and Flagstaff Biking Organization. The initiative hopes its work can create a template based on public input to inform trail decisions on the land owned by its agencies.
Brian Grube, assistant director of Coconino County Parks and Recreation, said the plan was given universal support from city, county and federal leadership.
“Regardless of what the final product may look like, there’s real collaboration,” Grube said. “That’s impactful in terms of trail planning. You’re not working in a vacuum. There’s a vision moving forward.”
Adam Milnor, community planner with the National Park Service, compared the importance of planning when building trails to planning for paved road systems.
“Imagine having an exit off the I-40 and there’s no county road to take you anywhere,” Milnor said. “Sometimes with trail planning, because there’s a lower-level cost, complexity and coordination, sometimes that can happen.”
Anthony Quintile, a member of Flagstaff Biking Organization and general manager of Flagstaff’s Absolute Bikes, said he wanted to involve the business community more in trail management for funding and support. For him, the 2017-18 Flagstaff Visitor Study, which showed that 31% of Flagstaff tourists came to the city for hiking, suggests trails can be a major driver for business in the community.
“I don’t know that, in this town, the tourism industry sees the direct importance of that stuff,” Quintile said. “They kind of take it for granted. I think they probably get it, but I don’t think they know things like that the trails budget for the Forest Service is $30,000. We need this money.”
One of initiative's hopes is to create a Flagstaff trails fund for business donations, and a nonprofit for leadership on the topic.
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A trail forward
In order to inform its planning decisions, the agency conducted a survey that asked the public what they felt the state of current trails are, where trails are needed and how the public uses the trails.
Martin Ince, multi-modal planner with the Flagstaff Metropolitan Planning Organization, said they got over 500 responses to the survey.
“It’s an amazing resource of information about how the community thinks about trails,” Ince said.
The Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS), Mount Elden Dry Lake Hills, Schultz Creek and Arizona Trail were identified as the most used portions of trail. While hiking on trails, users said they valued views and scenery, solitude and different loops the most.
Among other responses, 37.5% said they wanted more trails and 30.3% said they wanted more connections between trails. The largest amount of requests for new trails and connections were for the FUTS, Observatory Mesa and Mount Elden areas; while people asked for more trail connections on FUTS, the majority of respondents wanted more trails in general on Observatory Mesa and Mount Elden.
“Observatory Mesa could be developed for picnics, marathon races, mountain biking, equestrian, etc. It's a hidden gem,” an anonymous commenter said in the survey. “If developed and managed, it could attract world-class events. The views are stunning from several vantage points, which adds to the experience.”
When asked about trail concerns, most respondents were concerned about Mount Elden, logging 143 concerns that were mainly about unauthorized trails, trail maintenance and visitor use.
Over half of those surveyed used the trail either two to five times a week or more than five times a week.