The idea began in 1998, Howard Parrish said, after reading a newspaper article called "Contracted riders form first mail trail."
The colonel of the Camp Verde Cavalry said he recognized many of the names in the article as friends or relatives of his wife Betty. The idea mulled around in his mind six or seven months before he and others would move forward with the idea of rebuilding and making a dedicated historic trail out of the mail route.
Horseback riders transported mail along the primitive roadway that runs from Camp Verde to Payson during the years of 1884 to 1914.
Parrish and local trails activist Lynn Reddell are leading the campaign to reconstruct the historic 52-mile trail. The twosome recapped events in re-establishing the "Historic Mail Trail" to a group of supporters, guests of the Yavapai-Apache Nation June 18 at the Cliff Castle Conference Lodge. Reddell told the group that as far as she can determine, it will be Arizona's "first dedicated Mail Trail," and possibly the first in the United States.
Although still in its preliminary stages, lots of events are occurring behind the scenes. A tentative date for the dedication has already been set for next May, although the actual trail restoration may not be complete at that time.
Inspiration to get the project under way came to Parrish, he said, when he heard a TV evangelist say, "If you can dream it, you can do it." The first step in getting the project off the ground involved an actual ride of a portion of the trail.
Ten friends of Parrish, including Reddel and Walt Cox, a close friend to the last known rider Tuffy Peach, retraveled some of the route starting at Strawberry going to Divide Tank. Parrish said the group of riders discovered that portion of the trail to be "almost exactly like it was."
At the time, Parrish sought a reality check with Reddell. He looked to Reddell, he said, because of her expertise on the hows of building a trail. Reddell is actively involved with both the Camp Verde Trails Committee and the Yavapai County Trails Committee.
He questioned her, "Can we make this a trail?"
"Absolutely, but it's going to be a lot of work," she replied.
"It's been uphill all the way since," he quipped of the historic undertaking.
Invitations to the dedication will be going out to local, state and federal dignitaries, including President Bush, Parrish said. There is a great deal of work yet ahead. The USFS has to give its final approval before the actual physical work of recutting the trail can begin, Parrish confirmed. Bill Stafford with the USFS is a key player working with the group on the project.
The trail goes through three counties, Yavapai, Coconino and Gila, and covers three forests, the Coconino, the Prescott and the Tonto, and four towns, Camp Verde, Pine, Payson and Strawberry.
Parrish is encouraging volunteers and groups to come forward for the next step which is actually rebuilding the trail.
"We need workers to build this trail," he said.
Volunteers are needed to provide "sweat equity" to move rocks and cut brush. In many places, he said, the trail has to be "cut or rebuilt."
According to both Parrish and Reddell, making the trail a reality has become a community partnership already involving several people and various groups. Because the group has no money, the work is getting done due to the help of "good friends" and "neighbors," Parrish said.
The Camp Verdeans are working hand-in-hand with interested trail historians in three other communities — Pine, Strawberry and Payson, led by Peggy Randall and Lefton Hunt. That group is responsible for the trail on the other side of Fossil Creek.
The Camp Verde group is working on this side, Reddell said. Sponsorship is under the auspices of the Camp Verde Cavalry and the Camp Verde Historical Society. Two volunteer archeologists will help with the archeology aspect, Parrish said, through the assistance of former Mayor Barbara Miller.
Groups like the Kiwanis and the Cavalry have donated some money. One trailhead has been planned at the top of the trail near Divide Tank at Mile Post marker 238.5, 18.5 miles east of Camp Verde. Parrish said several local business people, such as the Mulcaires, Shills, McDonalds, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Superior and Hossco have already offered to make the trailhead a reality. There will be parking and a turn-outs.
Parrish said the "mail trail" route begins at Wingfield's Store in Camp Verde; it then goes to Verde Lakes; to 13 Mile Rock (13 miles from CV; the old Military Trail); to Mud Tank Mesa where it turns south; to Fossil Creek under Nash Point; to south of Strawberry and on to Pine to the Pryer Building. The trail crosses Sycamore Creek several times; crossing East Verde River then on into Payson to a general store, similar to Wingfields, now leveled.
Prior to the dedication next year, plaques will be placed at the start-up point at the Wingfield Store (Sutler's) in Pine at the Pryer Building and in Payson at its historical park. The locations were selected because of their historical significance to buildings or the location of buildings that were the post offices during that era.
The names of 60 known riders will be included on the plaques, Parrish said, and asks if anyone knows of other names not included in the list, to contact him. The U.S. Post Office has agreed to issue a postmark honoring the historical event.
Reddell explained that the trail was not a "Pony Express" trail; that one rider, not a relay of riders, would carry the mail all the way from Camp Verde to Payson. Parrish said the mail was received in just one day, faster than today's mail service.
When completed, she said there will be some areas open for multi-purpose use suitable for foot travel, dirt bikes, equestrian use and motorized vehicles. Other portions will be limited to non-motorized transportation.
Future meetings of the group will be held again at the Cliff Castle Lodge at the invitation of the Nation's Vice Chairman Fred Sanchez. Parrish is encouraging the public to get involved and to attend upcoming meetings.
For more information on the "Historic Mail Trail, contact Parrish at 567-3514.