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817-mile Arizona Trail gets federal designation

Route eligible for protection, funds

More than 20 years after work began on the 817-mile Arizona Trail, it has received national recognition garnered by just 10 other paths.

Late last month, the Arizona Trail received National Scenic designation through an act of Congress signed into law by President Obama.

The honor, last bestowed by Congress 25 years ago, is reserved for outstanding trails at least 100 miles long.

The special designation is a culmination for a trail first envisioned in the mid-1980s by Flagstaff schoolteacher and avid hiker Dale Shewalter.

“The designation is very gratifying for me,” Shewalter, now retired, told The Arizona Republic. “I knew that the trail would be a unique, desirable trail. I knew it would be popular.”

The Arizona Trail – which passes east of the metro area, between Phoenix and Superior – spans the state from its northern border with Utah, //to the southern border with Mexico.

Along the way, the trail crosses canyons, deserts, woodlands and mountains, and passes through seven wilderness areas and four national parks.

“In places, it’s very popular,” said Dave Hicks, executive director of the Arizona Trail Association. “In other places, it’s very remote, so it doesn’t get many people.

“That’s part of the appeal of the trail.”

The trail’s first 7-mile section was designated and opened to the public in 1988.

Now, roughly 40 miles are all that remain to be completed, said Hicks, whose Arizona Trail Association was founded to promote and protect the trail.

Nearly the entire trail is already on public land. Federal designation as a National Scenic Trail provides added protection, Hicks said, and could help steer more federal dollars in its direction for maintenance and improvements.

“The designation basically says you can’t do away with the trail,” he said. “You might re-route it, but you can’t do away with it.”

Gov. Jan Brewer lauded the work of government agencies, business groups and private citizens in creating the trail, calling it “a testament to what can be accomplished through public-private partnerships.”

Brewer singled out the efforts of Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, along with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in shepherding the legislation through Congress.

But the Arizona Trail began with Shewalter.

He first had the idea of linking a series of existing trails to create one continuous path across Arizona, and helped scout its current course.

Initially, Shewalter hoped the trail would be completed by 2000. Now, he’s shooting for 2012 – Arizona’s statehood centennial.


On the Web

Arizona Trail Association


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