TUCSON -- The final segment of the 817-mile Arizona Trail is on the verge of completion - topping off a 26-year marathon of planning, toil and cooperation to forge a route from Mexico to Utah.
"We're hoping to finish within the next two weeks," said Dave Hicks, executive director of the Arizona Trail Association. "All that needs finishing is a two- to three-mile stretch along the Gila River."
The long and winding trail spans desert, canyon and mountain terrain from the Mexican border south of Sierra Vista to the Utah border north of the Grand Canyon. It traverses parts of the Rincon and Catalina mountains near Tucson.
The route was designated as a National Scenic Trail in 2009.
The trail was first proposed in the mid-1980s by the late Dale Shewalter, a Flagstaff schoolteacher. He walked from Nogales to the Utah border to test the idea that a north-south statewide route was possible on foot. After his successful trek, Shewalter tirelessly championed the idea of a statewide trail for hikers, cyclists and equestrians.
Key to the trail's success was Shewalter's cultivation of collaboration with supporters in town, county, state and federal agencies, individuals, like-minded organizations and businesses. These allies united to plan, fund, construct and now maintain the trail.
Construction has been a cooperative effort involving the association, government agencies, communities, organizations and legions of volunteers.
Work consisted of linking existing trail segments and building new ones to create a continuous cross-state trail.
Many people have traveled all or parts of the trail route on foot, bikes and horseback -- making their own way across or around incomplete sections. In the next few weeks - barring unexpected delays - it will be possible to follow the official trail for the complete distance.
Hicks said he couldn't offer a cost estimate for the project because many expenses were covered by contributions, fundraising events and the sweat and toil of volunteers.
"The value provided by the volunteers is just priceless," he said. "And my hat is off to the Tucson community for its unparalleled support.
"I hiked the trail in 2001 when it wasn't complete," said Hicks, who is about to retire as executive director of the association. "One of my goals is to hike the whole trail once it's complete."
Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (520) 573-4192.
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