Gateway to Sedona: Community trail work opens up miles of new hiking trails (with video)
Photo Gallery Western Gateway Construction
SEDONA – The blossoming spring wildflowers were smiling at the trail construction volunteers that assembled at the Girder Trailhead for their sign-in and safety talk last week.
It was the last volunteer day this season to work on trails for the Western Gateway Trail System in Sedona.
The Western Gateway Trail System is a 28-mile crisscross of non-motorized hiking, biking and horse-riding trails made up of mostly new trails, but also some social and rehabbed trails.
“We got about 17 and half (miles) done this year,” explained Forest Service Trails Coordinator Forrest Saville to a cheerful group of volunteers in helmets and work clothes. “We have gotten further than we have ever dreamed.”
“It’s the last event. We made it,” he told the more than dozen volunteers.
That’s 25 work days and more than 2,500 hours put into the Western Gateway Project this fall and spring season, added Bret Edstrom, also of the forest service.
And some of the newly built trails have already opened for use, even through construction on the trails will continue for two more years.
One of the newest trails, Outer Limits, is one of the longest at six miles and opened in March. The trail goes up and dips down the Dry Creek washes and along low pine trees and shady riparian forest.
The trail is made of soft dirt and is currently sandwiched by bright yellow, purple, red and white wildflowers and lots of cacti. It’s difficult to ever lose sight of Cock’s Comb in one direction and Mingus Mountain and Wilson Mountain in opposite directions in the distance.
Many of the trails are for moderate hiking and mountain biking without much climbing, but two advanced trails were planned for the east side of lower Dry Creek.
Saville said there is not a lot of expert terrain out here. “The terrain doesn’t allow for that.”
The hikes and bike trails are intermediate “with nothing super strenuous.” It’s more about “distance” and a lot of “up and down” because of the creek bed, he added.
Two more years of construction
The volunteers will be back at it in October when the moisture returns, which is necessary for trail construction, Saville said. He added that Sedona dust just blows away in the summer.
The Western Gateway Trail System is accessed just across the street from the Yavapai College’s Sedona Campus off SR89A at the Girder Trailhead. The parking area overlooks the entire trail system, and Cock’s Comb can be seen to the northwest.
“The only forest service trail was Girder,” Saville explained, which went all the way to the Dry Creek area. Now there will be a “ton of trails in there.”
The trails will tie into the Cock’s Comb, Doe Mountain and Bear Mountain area. The new trails called names like Outer Limits, Saddle Up, Stirrup and Remnant give hikers and mountain bikers a panoramic view of the Sedona Red Rocks.
Saville agreed it may seem fun to design and build new hiking trails, “but it’s a lot of work. It’s hard work”
“That’s why we are super grateful for all the volunteers,” he continued. “A lot of this work has been done by volunteers. We work for four hours, we eat pizza afterwards.”
“We get such a mix out here,” Saville said referring to the volunteers. They get a lot from the Verde Valley Bicyclists Coalition, local bike shop riders, Friends of the Forest, and hiking enthusiasts.
The trails are built on Forest Service land with forest service planning, environmental analysis, designs, and the forest service comes out on volunteer days and provides oversite and manpower.
“When we are building a new trail, we’re kind of scraping in the dirt and making a little pathway,” he said. Volunteers also replant dislodged cacti and work with brush and plants. Some trails are lined with rocks and tree branches close off to the side of trails to keep hikers from getting lost.
Some trails cross Dry Creek, Saville continued, and need reinforcement work. New signs are put up and old signs corrected. And some historic “social trails” that need attention, Saville said. “We adopted some of those [trails] that were sustainable, and then rerouted some of them and created news ones.”
The funding and support
The Red Rock Trail Fund is the fund raising source for the project and they are partnering with the Forest Service.
Funding and work for Phase 1 of the project came from many sources, according to Kevin Adams, president of the trail fund. Funding and support has come from: the Verde Valley Cyclists Coalition, REI support for trail volunteer days, Friends of the Forest, City of Sedona, Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, Singletrack Futures Foundation, Leo & Rhea Fay Fruhman Foundation, the American Conservation Experience in Flagstaff, Forest Service Seasonal trail crew, Trail Keepers’ businesses, Wildland Trekking, Absolute Bikes, Specialized Bicycles, Keep Sedona Beautiful, Gear Girls and Over the Edge Sports, Famous Pizza and Lagunitas and many individual donations.
Adams said he hoped he didn’t forget anyone, but added they are looking for funding for year two of the project.
Enchantment Resort, the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, City of Sedona and the Verde Valley Cyclists Coalition have all contributed funds for year two already, Adams also said.
“We have several grant applications outstanding and are hopeful to add more names to the list,” he added.
For more information on the Western Gateway Project or to find out about trail volunteer dates, go to redrocktrailfund.org or VVCC.us.