The Arizona Trail was the dream of Dale Shewalter
He envisioned a cross-state trail in the 1970s, and in 1985, while he was working as a Flagstaff schoolteacher, walked from Nogales to the Utah state line to explore the feasibility of a trail traversing Arizona. Immediately thereafter, Dale began traveling around the state giving presentations on his vision of a trail connecting communities, mountains, canyons, deserts, forests, public lands, historic sites, various trail systems, wilderness areas, and other points of interest. The idea was embraced by all types of trails users throughout Arizona, and by Arizona State Parks and the Kaibab, Coronado, Coconino, and Tonto National Forests, the Bureau of Land Management, and National Parks Service.
Inventory work was needed on determining the existing trails that could be interconnected to be designated as part of the Arizona Trail, and at the same time, where new trails would be needed to traverse Arizona’s diverse landscapes. In the late 1980′s, Dale was hired by the Kaibab National Forest to be the first paid coordinator for the Arizona Trail, and all agencies began establishing segments of the Arizona Trail.
By 1990, two needs became apparent – a formal partnership among all governmental agencies was necessary to better coordinate efforts and communication, and a non-profit organization for the trail was needed. Using monies from all four National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and funding of its own, Arizona State Parks assumed the lead role and employed paid coordinators for the Arizona Trail throughout the 1990s.
In 1994, the Arizona Trail Association became an organized voice for the trail, and brought together passionate day hikers, backpackers, equestrians, mountain bicyclists, runners, trail builders, nature enthusiasts, cross-country skiers, and llama packers from throughout the state. These committed individuals (then and even more so today) provided the necessary route identification to “close the gaps” of the trail, provided the necessary volunteers for building and maintaining the trail, created maps and provided GPS coordinates, identified water sources and resupply points, and raised money and awareness for the trail.
Also in the 1990s and continuing today, various trail crews that spend extended periods of time working on the trail have contributed greatly. These include various youth corps crews, Sierra Club service trips, American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacations, scouting and college groups, Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona, REI service trips, Backcountry Horsemen of America, International Mountain Bicycling Association – Subaru Trail Care Crews, and many more. These trail crews can spend extended periods of time in the backcountry, where logistics can be challenging for the typical weekend volunteer work project.
Since 2000, some very significant milestones have been reached that originally seemed very difficult to achieve. These include: working to reestablish the trail in areas severely affected by major wildfires; traversing the challenging topography north of the Gila River; working through landowner opposition west of the San Francisco Peaks; developing outstanding maps and GPS information to better assist trail users through the remote areas along the trail. It is the above milestones that brought the Arizona Trail to its current completed state.
The Arizona Trail has become one of the premier long distance trails in the country. The diversity of people that have made this happen are as diverse as the trail itself. The Arizona Trail demonstrates what trail users and land managers can accomplish when they share a common vision.
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