The trail system that surrounds Flagstaff was born for reasons much different than outdoor recreation. Trails were blazed by generations of people connecting places of significance or utility. Later, after the establishment of what is now the Coconino National Forest, they become critical transportation links for forest management. Much of the trail system on forest lands is made up of pack and saddle routes or closed roads, many of which simply represented the shortest route between two points, rather than a system of sustainably designed and constructed trails.
How have the trails grown?
The trail system on the National Forest seen a number of important events, including the designation of the San Francisco Peaks Wilderness in 1984. The nonmotorized Mount Elden-Dry Lake Hills system was dedicated soon after in 1987. Little Elden Spring Horse Camp, created in 2009 with 15 campsites, now allows easy access for vehicles pulling horse trailers. The approval of the Fort Valley system in 2000 and the Kelly Trail system in 2012 marked major steps in providing close-to-home access for motorized users.
What problems do our trails currently face?
Many older and historic trail alignments were built without utilizing best practices like proper run-to-rise, grade reversals and tread hardening. Some older alignments are along old road beds that were never intended for recreational trail use and therefore lack the utilization of these design elements and often fail to provide the best user experience. Management policy limits the placement of realignments without the appropriate analysis. In order to make old trail alignments meet the above-mentioned criteria, tread will often need to be substantially adjusted outside currently approved corridors. The lack of best-practice design elements contributes to erosion, a large maintenance backlog and lack of user satisfaction with these trails.
Flagstaff’s trails receive a significant amount of use that is likely to increase along with expected population growth and rising tourism visitation. This process provides a platform to assess the existing trail system and plan for improvements.
Proper stewardship takes resources: money, people and equipment. A shortage of resources can be traced to several of the challenges identified by FTI including a backlog of trail maintenance, proliferation of unauthorized trails and inadequate wayfinding. Much of the shortfall is on the Coconino National Forest; no surprise, as the agency is struggling with a $300 million trail maintenance backlog nationwide. Resources are also limited for trail development and management on the City’s newly acquired open space and for development of Flagstaff Urban Trail System
The solution: the Flagstaff Trails Initiative
The purpose of FTI is to develop and implement a collaborative, cross-jurisdictional strategy for recreational trails in the Flagstaff region of Coconino County, Arizona that will improve upon the old trail system to create an extraordinary trail network for the community. This effort seeks to improve the quality, connectivity, funding and community support for a sustainable trail system that balances the demand for recreation with the community’s vision for conservation, development, and health.
The Flagstaff Regional Trails Strategy
FTI and it’s partners undertook an extensive effort to better understand the current outdoor recreation situation and its driving factors. Using a mix of trail surveys, partnership meetings and public open houses, the team identified some key trends and challenges for the strategy to address: recreation, environmental, community, and economic. By combining the key trend findings with a foundation of approved, formal plans such as the Flagstaff Regional Plan 2030, Flagstaff Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, Coconino County Comprehensive Plan and Land and Resource Management Plan for the Coconino National Forest FTI created the Flagstaff Regional Trails Strategy.