Verde Valley to be connected by 132-mile trail system
Linda Buchanan’s eyes light up when she describes the vision for Yavapai College’s new hiking trail system that will provide hikers with access to more than 130 miles of connected trails in Verde Valley.
People will be able to park at the Yavapai College’s Clarkdale campus, and plan their hike to anywhere in the Verde Valley, explained Buchanan, the Yavapai College community engagement coordinator.
The one-and-half mile campus trail will begin at the Verde Valley Campus Trailhead, which Buchanan said has the intent to “wildly expand the community’s access” to the local campus.
The Yavapai College campus trail is only one piece of the 132-mile Verde Front’s Trails Access Plan, made possible by a 20-year planning and construction effort coordinated by more than a dozen governmental, non-profit groups and private landowners,
Prescott National Forest trail building crews, volunteers and college students and staff will construct the Yavapai College Trail on 120-acres of campus property, which is currently zigzagged by a host of social trails.
From the campus trail, hikers will see beautiful vistas of the Sedona Red Rocks in the distance, Buchanan said. They will be able to hike north toward Old Town Cottonwood, east toward Camp Verde; or to the west and hike up the 4,000 elevation gain to Mingus Mountain and Jerome, she added.
“As this collaborating planning process comes together over time, we will have a complete Verde Valley circle” of hiking trails, explained Buchanan.
The 132-mile trail collaboration is called the Verde Trails Access Plan and has been in the planning stage for about a decade, Buchanan said.
Each entity has its own part to play and representatives met at the college recently to update the progress they have made on their own trail systems.
“Construction of the 132 miles of non-motorized trails within the Verde Trails and Access Plan (VTAP) will take place over the next 10 years,” explained Thomas Palmer, recreation program manager, Prescott National Forest, Verde Ranger District in Camp Verde.
“As funding opportunities become available coupled with continued support from the community this time frame could be shorter,” said Palmer.
New trails are being constructed, old trails are being redone, social trails are being mapped and hiking trails are being connected from one agency’s boundary to the next.
Coordinated signage will let hikers know when they are leaving one jurisdiction and entering another, Buchanan said.
Palmer said the Prescott Forest has prioritized the Blowout Wash Trail System (about 20 miles), Black Canyon National Recreation Trail (about 37 miles) and Grief Hill Trail System (about 15 miles) over the next five years because of the great collaborative partnerships with the communities.
These three projects represent approximately 72 miles of the 132 miles planned, Palmer said.
Hezekiah Allen, Cottonwood Park & Recreation supervisor, said he credited the agencies for great coordination in the Verde Front Leadership and for coming up with a cohesive plan for the 132 miles of trails. The plan will make sure “a trail doesn’t stop when there is another trail 20 miles away,” he said.
The Yavapai College trails will connect to Old Town Cottonwood down Del Monte Wash, Allen said. There, hikers can get to Riverfront Park where the city’s trails master plan comes into play. Hikers and riders then also have access to the Verde River and Dead Horse Ranch State Park from there.
Buchanan said adventurous hikers won’t have to stop within the Verde Valley boundaries either. Planners are trying to build a trail system known as the Sun Corridor Trail that hikers will be able to use to cross the state. “All the way to Vegas if you want to,” she said.
Buchanan said they are working and negotiating with private landowners in Cottonwood and Clarkdale for trail access for the 132-mile system.
The college installed a state-park style bathroom at the campus trail head and she said that non-hikers are welcome to use college facilities such as the library, campus café, art gallery or Southwest Wine Center if they want to wait for friends who are hiking.
Buchanan said the Yavapai College Campus Trail would be an intermediate or beginner hiking trail, and a more difficult mountain biking trail.
She also envisioned educational opportunities on the trail since so many agencies are now looking for trail-building skills and wildland firefighters.
Hikers on the campus trails will also walk past the school’s vineyard where students are taught to grow wine, harvest and produce wine.
The campus trail will be for hikers and mountain bikers, however, equestrians will be an important part of the remaining 132-mile system, Buchanan said. Each entity has its own trail plan within its jurisdiction, she said.
The Verde Trail Access Plan working group includes representatives from the Prescott and Coconino national forests, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Town of Clarkdale, Town of Camp Verde, City of Cottonwood, Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Beaver Creek and Black Canyon Trails Coalitions, Friends of the Verde River, Verde Valley Cyclists, Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Back Country Horsemen and Yavapai County
“Instead of one trail crossing a jurisdiction without any thought what that experience is like for the trail user, we are now being very collaborative in our effort to make sure those connections, the signage, and there’s just a continuity and culture of embracing this,” Buchanan said.
“We are really are considering how those connections look and work and how they impact neighborhoods and just making sure that we are really leveraging the resources that each of us has for the best advantage of people that live here and also people that visit,” she added.