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Enhancing the Journey Along the Arizona Trail

Efforts have aligned to improve the outdoor experience for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians seeking to discover Northern Arizona’s wide-open spaces. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Babbitt Ranches, Coconino County and the Arizona Trail Association (ATA) grants permission and identifies resources to develop and maintain a trail along a nearly 13-mile stretch of the CO Bar Ranch. ATA is seeking volunteers to help build the new singletrack on the weekend of July 20 and 21.

Of the 800-mile Arizona Trail that stretches from Utah to the Mexican border, the Babbitt Ranches Passage is the only portion on private land. Currently, it connects the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests with a two-track dirt road.

“We are so honored that Babbitt Ranches allows the Arizona Trail to pass through their ranch lands, and now the opportunity to enhance that experience through trail construction shows the strong commitment that Babbitt Ranches, Coconino County and the Arizona Trail Association all have in working together,” said Arizona Trail Association Executive Director Matthew Nelson.

“The trip through CO Bar Ranch is already a beautiful one, but a separate, non-motorized singletrack trail provides a more intimate experience, allowing recreationists an improved opportunity to interact with nature,” said Babbitt Ranches Recreation Manager Evan Reimondo. “The revised route will pass near Tub Ranch Camp, which was important to Babbitt Ranches and helps tell the history of the region and show that these are still working lands.”

Following Historic Stagecoach Line

The Babbitt Ranches Passage also aligns with the Stagecoach Line, Northern Arizona’s original tourism excursion.

“The whole stagecoach route is like a step back in time,” said Neil Weintraub, Kaibab National Forest archaeologist, distance runner and Arizona Trail volunteer.

In a 2013 interview, Flagstaff historian, the late Judge Richard Mangum, explained that most of the stagecoach trips of the early 1900s left Flagstaff in the morning and arrived at the Grand Canyon in the evening. Travelers could purchase the excursion for about $15 when they bought their train tickets at stations in Chicago and other big cities on their way to and from Los Angeles. Guests rode in, and on top of, elegant Concord coaches.

“These were the stagecoaches you’d see in old Westerns,” he said. “They were considered quite elegant, with wood finish and plush, upholstered seats. The ride was probably fun for about the first hour. Passengers were dealing with intense sun, rain at times, bugs flying into their eyes, and a lot of dust. Also, the wheels were wooden and suspension was just non-existent. You felt every bounce in the road. You can imagine by the time they got to the Grand Canyon after 12 hours in a stagecoach, they were whipped!”

Connecting San Francisco Peaks and Grand Canyon

Nelson says trail users are amazed by the biodiversity of the area, from aspens and ponderosa pines to juniper trees and rabbitbrush and, ultimately, one of the world’s most impressive canyons.

“It’s situated between two of the most iconic features in Northern Arizona: Grand Canyon and San Francisco Peaks. If you’re going southbound across this section, you can see across huge distances, but the first thing you notice is this beautiful mountain looming in the distance.”

The MOU states that construction is anticipated to be completed by September 2021. It commits county funds, “an amount not to exceed $30,000,” toward construction of the new trail segment.

 “The Arizona Trail is an incredible gift that has been given to our state,” said Coconino County Supervisor for District 1, then Board Chair, Art Babbott upon signing the agreement. “The dedication and collaboration of organizations, agencies, government, businesses and thousands of individuals, has built an asset that will serve our communities and future generations. The landscapes that the trail winds through are as diverse, rugged and spectacular as the communities and citizens of Arizona. On behalf of the Board of Supervisors, I want to extend our appreciation and gratitude to all the advocates and stewards of the AZT!”

Reimondo looks forward to the opportunities ahead. “As a trail runner, I will always be excited about new singletrack! I’m also excited for us to work with the county and ATA in building a new piece of trail that will help to get more people out to experience the ranch lands. For Babbitt Ranches, it’s an important stepping stone toward building other recreation business and infrastructure, and sharing its land management and recreation ethos.”

Nelson has long acknowledged the Babbitts as “wonderful stewards” of the land. “They intentionally manage the landscape for healthy, wide-open spaces. People see wildlife, cattle and active ranching, but for the most part, nobody else is out there. There are no structures. It’s away from powerlines and pipelines. It feels wild.”

Forging the Trail Ahead

Nelson adds that progress already is being made on the Babbitt Ranches Singletrack Project. “Coconino County has built a few miles of trail with their machinery; Arizona Trail Association volunteers put in a solid day of trail construction near Chapel Mountain in May; and recently a group of youth who were mountain biking from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon as part of our annual ‘Peaks to Park’ youth mountain bike summer adventure spent a day building trail, too.”

The ATA’s trail-building days this month are being conducted in coordination with RunFlagstaff and members of the local trail running community. The plan includes camping near the Cedar Ranch trailhead Friday and Saturday night, July 19 and 20, with trail work on Saturday and Sunday, July 20 and 21.

“Weather permitting, we’ll hike between one and two miles to the area where we’ll be building fresh singletrack,” said Nelson. There will be something for everyone from the experienced trail dog to someone who’s never even seen a McLeod before.”

ATA will provide tools, personal protective equipment and instruction. Volunteers should be at least 15 years old. Those interested can find more information and sign up at volunteer.aztrail.org/need/detail/?need_id=425394.

“Trail work is a lot of fun, we reward volunteers with lunch and Arizona Trail swag, and it’s a wonderful way to give back to the trail that positively impacts the lives of so many people,” said Nelson. “We find that people who are involved in trail building, who get their hands dirty, are forever connected to that piece of land and will be the ones who help maintain and protect the trail in the future. All we need is folks with a willingness to work hard and we provide the rest.” FBN

By Bonnie Stevens, FBN

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