What did you do to celebrate National Park Week? Our celebration was to give back by volunteering to do trail maintenance on a section of the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT). It was hard work, but very rewarding. Certainly we will never look at a trail in quite the same way again! And we learned some new terminology – brushing, lopping, tred work.
Our work was with a trail “steward”. We had heard of trail stewards before. In fact, friends of ours are stewards of a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon, but we really didn’t know what they did. We had always simply assumed that the National Park Service or one of the other government agencies managed the trails, but that turns out not to be the case. Instead, there are hundreds of stewards, each managing a passage or a portion of a passage. Plus thousands of volunteers who spend countless hours maintaining the trails.
When you walk along a nicely groomed trail, you probably don’t even think of what went into making it that way. You simply enjoy walking on a nice wide trail, able to look around without fear of tripping and able to wear shorts without worrying about getting your legs all scratched up.
Think of trails that are less well maintained, ones where you had to pay attention to every footfall and be wary of tree stumps or other tripping hazards. Or where trees and shrubs encroached from both sides, making you wish you had a machete to cut your way through the jungle! Ouch!
That’s what trail maintenance is all about. Our stewards showed us how wide the trail should be, instructed us how to cut back the brush and remove tripping hazards. We also helped shore up the trail with rocks and divert the path away from the edge. They stressed that everything is about hiker safety!
Our stewards were also very particular about aesthetics. They didn’t want us simply hacking away at the brush. They showed us how to prune without damaging the plants, and how to cut branches that may be in the path while leaving the trees to grow and provide shade. They also were very clear about how to dispose of the brush. We didn’t just toss it to the side of the trail. No – it was all either carried or thrown several yards from the trail on the downhill side. Nothing visible from the trail. Nice.
AZT Passage 23 – Mazatzal Divide
Passage 23 of the AZT where we worked is a great example of the dedication of the trail stewards. We worked from a base camp, but in order to get to that camp, we had to backpack from the trailhead 8 miles away.
Each time that Sandy and Merianne, the stewards of 23B, want to get to their passage they have to drive a 4 mile dirt road and park at the trailhead, then hike up over 2000 feet in 6 miles. And that just gets them to the AZT. Camping is another 2 miles away where there is a water source!
Luckily for them, they didn’t have to haul all of the equipment. They had a cache there with all the tools we needed. But of course, you don’t work on the trail right at the camp spot. No, you hike back out the trail – 2, 3, 4 miles – and then work your way back in.
Even with 13 volunteers for 2 days, we weren’t able to do more than a few miles of the trail. It’s a huge job and never-ending. We really applaud the hard work of the stewards and all the volunteers. It really shows their passion for the trail.
Next time you go hiking, think about what it took to make the trail so nice. If you see volunteers, be sure to thank them. Or, better yet, volunteer.
About the Arizona National Scenic Trail
The Arizona National Scenic Trail is 800 miles from Mexico to Utah. One of the premier long distance trails in the US, it traverses some of the most scenic countryside in the southwest; deserts, mountains, canyons and forests, including crossing the Grand Canyon from rim to rim.
Over the years it has become more and more accessible for through-hikers. In fact, just this year a trail runner covered the entire distance in a record-setting 15 days, 13 hours and 10 minutes (an average of 51 miles per day!) Others approach hiking the trail in sections; one by one completing each of the 43 passages.
No matter how far or long you want to hike, the AZT can accommodate.
National Scenic Trails
The AZT is just one of eleven National Scenic Trails, some managed by the National Park Service and others by the Forrest Service. They range in length from 4,600 miles to just 64 miles.
- North Country National Scenic Trail – 4600 miles, est. 1980
- Continental Divide National Scenic Trail – 3100 miles, est. 1978
- Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail – 2650 miles, est. 1968
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail – 2189 miles, est. 1968
- Florida National Scenic Trail – 1300 miles, est. 1983
- Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail – 1200 miles, est. 2009
- Ice Age National Scenic Trail – 1000 mile, est. 1980
- Arizona National Scenic Trail – 800 miles, est. 2009
- Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail – 710 miles, est. 1983
- New England National Scenic Trail – 215 miles, est. 2009
- Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail – 64 miles, est. 1983
Get out and enjoy!!!
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.