HISTORY OF TRACKS (continued)
The unique feature of the WMTS is the loop trail. Most trails traditionally go from point A to point B, requiring a return trip over the same terrain. The WMTS loop goes from Point A and returns to A. Loop trails are joined by connector trails making longer traverses possible. Loops vary in size allowing a pleasant evening's walk, a day hike with a stop at selected picnic type areas, a several day horseback trail ride, an adventurous backpack trip, or a scenic mountain bike tour. Winter opens selected trails to cross-country skiing.
The WMTS is more than trails, it is people ... dedicated, caring people who want to preserve the very reason they chose these mountains to call home: a love of nature and outdoor experience. TRACKS was officially formed in 1990 to build & maintain non-motorized trails and has been phenomenally successful. For many years TRACKS was an “ad hoc” committee of the Town of Pinetop/Lakeside, and became a non-profit 501.C.3 in 2013. With a current roster of about 350 volunteers, TRACKS is the heart of regional trail development and usage. The WMTS is still evolving with some 200+ miles currently in use and more trails planned for the future.
THE RESULT: From 10 miles of USFS approved, designated trails in 1987 to over 200 miles in 2014 and still growing.
In Spring, 1987 trail development began in Pinetop-Lakeside's beautiful Woodland Lake Park. Partners: USDA US Forest Service, Arizona Game & Fish Department, White Mountains Horsemen's Association, and Audubon Society, with funding from the Arizona Game & Fish Heritage Fund, quickly decided that the strategy would be to develop urban trails and forest trails. The two efforts began with major emphasis on developing National Forest trails that connected to Pinetop/Lakeside and Show Low.
Because of the ambitiousness of the project, White Mountains Trail System started to get attention from locals, businesses, and the press. At one point, United States Senator John McCain stopped into one of our planning meetings for a quick briefing. The word was out. The WMTS was a major project run by folks who knew what they were doing. While the big mileage was being developed in the national forest, the urban system sparkled with completion of Hitching Post Loop Trail in Woodland Lake Park (a 1.1 mile paved handicapped trail around the lake), and completion of Turkey Track, Meadowview, Eagle Scout trails, and a walking trail along the creek flowing from the lake. A brand new 80' foot bridge span on the Lake Trail gave a sense of just how comprehensive and thorough our volunteer efforts were becoming. The mileage in the forest seemed to explode as volunteers eagerly stepped forward. Expert guidance from the US Forest Service led not only to professional trail standards, but also to neat trailhead kiosks, large parking areas to accommodate horse trailers & other users, and first class signage. The first 10 miles has become 200+ miles of a major trail system.
THE PEOPLE: With up to 350 volunteers in 2015 - in rural communities no less!
A lot of wonderfully talented and generous folks help build the WMTS. They just started and keep appearing. Young and old, strong and fragile, individuals, families, friends, strangers, and groups. They all work together ... a labor born of love.
Long-term stewardship of the WMTS is TRACKS’ responsibility. This 350 member group works as the head of the project. In 1990, TRACKS was the proud host of the first ever Arizona State Trails Conference. It was a great success. The White Mountains Trail System was the hit of the conference. Attendees were amazed at the scope of the project.
MONEY: Raising up to $100,000 for trails and financially in the black every year since 1987.
TRACKS started with no funding, but money flows to a good idea. Local businesses donated seed money when times were tough. Sales of Fourth of July wind socks gave us a windfall profit, Navajo County gave a $1,000 start-up check to the fledgling project, and one corporate sponsor gave a check for $5,000 (no strings). Individual donations poured in and continue to this day to help cover costs of equipment and supplies. An Arizona Game & Fish Heritage Fund grant supported financial success of the project.
The Town of Pinetop/Lakeside becoming a focal point of support. Besides much needed encouragement, since TRACKS was an “ad hoc” committee, the Town provided staff time, administrative support, office supplies, and access to town fund-raisers like Winterfest and Tastefest. Additionally they dug deep, even when receipts were down, to provide some operating monies.
THE MANAGEMENT: Managing an extremely diverse partnership of federal, state, county, city, public, private, and business organizations to get the job done
The interaction with project partners is always professional. Everyone focuses on the goal of an excellent trail system. One of our best ideas involved putting decision-making at the trail level, with a 'trail boss' who would develop a crew for “their” trail. Work crews, sometimes with as many as 35 volunteers, met at for breakfast and, with trained crew bosses, formed work parties to tackle high priority projects.
A wonderfully zany group of hard-core trail builders emerged. Calling themselves 'Pi-Square: A Guild of Trail Builders', this small cadre became the WMTS swat team, took on the toughest of trails, and seemed to relish the impossible. Formed in 1992, they met every Monday to work on trails. Numerous groups of scouts, Rotarians, school kids, even young offenders have helped TRACKS volunteers build portions of the system.
The Town of Pinetop-Lakeside included the WMTS in all of its promotional programs. The WMTS is a major economic driver for tourism, which is a vital part of the regional economy. Articles about the WMTS have appeared throughout the United States and northern Mexico.
THE INNOVATION: Innovation in trail design, management, and trail marking techniques
Besides creatively generating funds from multiple sources, our partners developed numerous innovative solutions to trails problems. Our loop and connector approach, which have become US Forest Service designated trails, is now being used in adjacent and distant trail systems. Our clever, inexpensive 'circle' code for trail signage was adopted by a well known national sign maker. (We asked them to make the product to our specifications since they had never heard of anything like them before. The next year our circles appeared in their full catalog of 'Codots.'). TRACKS has had 3 workshops on sustainable trails provided by the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) thru funding by Subaru. These workshops have been invaluable in teaching TRACKS volunteers good trail building & maintenance skills and perspectives.
THE AWARDS: Recipient of State and National awards
Members of the Pinetop-Lakeside TRACKS Organization have received several State of Arizona awards for the TRAILSYSTEM effort. The group won First Place in the State of Arizona for the National 'Take Pride in America' program. With this State award the group went on to win the National Award presented by Bruce Babbitt, United States Secretary of the Interior on behalf of the President of the United States.
<Other awards include:
Recognition for work done on the West Fork of the Black River Fisheries and Watershed Restoration Project - October, 1995
Arizona Heritage Alliance Volunteer Service Award - 1994
Forest Service Region 3 Volunteer Achievement Award - 1997 and 2003
Millenium Trail designation (Land of the Pioneers) from First Lady Hillary Clinton - 2000
National Award for Community Service from American Trails at its 2013 International Trails Symposium in Scottsdale AZ.
COMMITMENT: A strong supporter of National Trails Day
National Trails Day is one of TRACKS' major annual events. Saturday is the big day, with hikes, mountain bike rides, and horseback rides. The day ends with a potluck dinner Saturday night under a mountain sky of a million stars. National Trails Day is used to build trail awareness and attract new members.
LONG-RANGE VIEW: Developing a long-range plan and sticking to it
In Spring, 1987 the White Mountains Trail System Coordinating Committee set a 10+ year strategy. As of 2015, 200+ miles of USFS approved, interconnecting trails have been completed, and new trails are in planning and approval stages. TRACKS also continues to work with regional communities on urban trails.
SPECIAL PROJECTS: Improving Trail Safety
During Summer, 2013, with funding from an Arizona Game & Fish Heritage Fund grant, plus donations from Navajo County and HonDah Resort, TRACKS completed a special project to improve safety on the WMTS. 1500 white, reflective trail marker diamonds were placed approximately every ¼ mile on the 200+ mile WMTS. Each diamond has a unique code; e.g. on the Panorama Trail the codes run: P1, P2, etc. GPS coordinates of each diamond were recorded, put on official trail maps (available for free on the TRACKS website) and provided to all regional emergency responder organizations & dispatchers, so that 911 callers on the WMTS can be more readily located. Prior to this project, it often took multiple emergency responder personnel hours to locate people in trouble on the WMTS. Since completion of the project in September, 2013, all rescues have been accomplished in 45 minutes or less. The project was featured by AZ Game & Fish as a “best practices” use of Heritage Fund monies in their annual legislative report, and was reported to AZ State Parks Board, who voted to recommend the project as a possible model to improve trail safety to all AZ trail land managers.
TRACKS continues constructing, maintaining, educating and training on non-motorized trails. Come join one of the best group of volunteers you can imagine!