THE MARICOPA TRAIL
In 1997, the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department developed a long-term blueprint that included dozens of lofty goals. Among the most ambitious: create a "pedestrian beltway" linking nine of its 10 parks in one large, 242-mile loop encircling the county. It would be called the Maricopa Trail.
The Maricopa Trail connects nine county parks as well as one municipal park :
White Tank Mountain Regional Park
Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Cave Creek Regional Park
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Usery Mountain Regional Park
San Tan Mountain Regional Park
Estrella Mountain Regional Park
Buckeye Hills Regional Park
South Mountain Park
Roughly three years in the making, about 80 miles have been completed. Officials are making a push to finish the remaining portions ahead of schedule, deeming the project "Priority 1," Director R.J. Cardin said.
"I think if we keep going, we could be done within the next five years," Cardin said. "It's very exciting."
Length 242 miles (389 km) planned
80 miles (130 km) completed
Location: Maricopa County, Arizona, Arizona, United States
Trailheads: Loop trail (no endpoints)
Use Hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, inline skating (portions)
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Sights: Multiple regional and municipal parks
The master plan for the Maricopa Trail took four years to hammer out. The project is a combination of newly acquired land right-of-ways and intergovernmental agreements with state and local agencies.
For example, a southern segment of the path stretches from the county's Estrella Mountain Regional Park near Avondale through the Phoenix-run South Mountain Park and into Tempe.
Engineers tried to keep inclines at a grade of less than 10 percent to make the path friendly to all hikers. The ground pitches subtly to one side, so rainwater - when it does fall - cleanses the trail of burr-like cholla balls and other natural debris.
"It's really a pretty low-maintenance structure - if it's planned right," said John Gunn, park supervisor at the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area near Cave Creek. A portion of the trail runs through this county park, and Gunn monitors the trail at least twice a day.
"Most of the human traffic is really not that much of an impact," he said. "So far, we're real happy with what we're seeing."
What Gunn sees are miles of spare desert, overshadowed by the bald rock face of nearby Elephant Mountain. On a recent morning, Gunn stood among saguaros that dwarfed him, drinking in the upland Sonoran views.
"Morning, evening, midday - it's always good out here, really," Gunn said. "It never ceases to amaze me how gorgeous this desert is."
The 3 1/2-mile trail that winds through Spur Cross was one of the earlier fragments of the Maricopa Trail to be completed.
234 N. Central Ave, Suite 6400
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Ph: 602-506-2930 Fax: 602-506-4692
Officials tackled the easiest parts of the trail first, which is why the finished portions are in patches, rather than a continuous half-ring.
Purchasing the rights to cross land has comprised the majority of the trail's $5 million price tag, according to Maricopa Trail manager Chris Coover.
Coover estimates the parks department has spent about $1.74 million on the trail. It budgeted $3.28 million toward the project for the next five years.
"Really, the only capital-development dollars we have right now are going towards the Maricopa Trail," Cardin said.
In fiscal 2009, the parks department suffered a decrease of about 60 percent decrease in general funds from the previous year. It is 90 percent self-funded through entrance fees. There is no separate charge to hike on the Maricopa Trail - only the cost of the entrance fee at one of the county's parks to access it.
"My future concern for this is making sure that we're setting aside enough money to maintain the trail," Cardin said.
Still, officials have tried to take advantage of the depressed economy by shifting their focus to trail and trailhead construction, such as gates and gravel parking lots.
"When construction's cheap, you get more bang for your buck," Coover said.
Officials have high hopes for the ring path: Cardin envisions mountain bikers or horseback riders taking multiday trips."People could get on at one spot and ride from park to park to park," he said.
He can picture ultramarathon enthusiasts running the entire course in one shot - or hikers biting off the trail one step at a time, camping overnight at one of the parks along the way.
"It'd be kind of like doing the Appalachian Trail," he said.
Thomas McGuire, a Cave Creek resident who frequents the trail, said the preservation and availability of such open spaces are the most underappreciated aspects of living here.
"One of the wonderful things about hiking in Arizona is you can see where you're going, you can see where you've been," McGuire said. "There's really a lot more scope to the views that you get along the trails than would be the case than if there were dense trees."
Although the completed segments of the trail are open to the public now, funneling all the money into building the trail has left little for promoting it. Officials hope eventually to install clearer signage along the 242 miles, as well as maps depicting where people are on the trail - and that it exists at all.
"It's so new," Cardin said, "I don't think we have any true sense of how many people are using it."
Buckeye Hills Regional Park (spur route):
Consisting of 4,474 acres of natural desert, the park is located in the southwest Valley. Enjoy the rolling hills of pristine Sonoran Desert, with beautiful views of the Gila River riparian area. The park has restrooms but currently there is no running water or electricity available in the park.
Cave Creek Regional Park:
Located north of Phoenix, this 2,922-acre park sits in the upper Sonoran Desert. Ranging in elevation from 2,000 feet to 3,060, this desert oasis provides any hiker and equestrian majestic views. The Go John Trail loops around a mountain to provide the illusion of being miles away from civilization. In the 1870s, fever stricken gold seekers staked their dreams on the jasper-studded hills. Guided trails to these sites give visitors an opportunity to travel back in time.
Estrella Mountain Regional Park
These 19,840 acres of desert and mountains became the first regional park in the Maricopa County Park System in 1954. Located near the meeting of the Gila and Agua Fria Rivers in the southwest Valley, the park includes a large wetland, or riparian, area. The majority of the park remains pristine desert, very similar in appearance to the landscape seen by the first settlers and explorers. The Sierra Estrella range, or Star Mountains, was once within the Mexican border, and remained so until the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. Today, many amenities are available to visitors, including the only grass picnic area in the Maricopa County Park System.
Lake Pleasant Regional Park:
One of the most scenic water recreation areas in the “Valley of the Sun,” this northwest Valley park is a recreationist’s dream. The park offers many activities, such as camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. At the Lake Pleasant Visitor Center, guests learn about the history of the area and desert wildlife. Step out onto the balcony surrounding the Visitor Center to get a beautiful view of Lake Pleasant and an up-close look at Waddell Dam. The breathtaking views offer visitors a great place to relax, whether it is from a boat or shoreline picnic site.
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors enjoy a full program schedule, over 50 miles of multiuse trails, and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. A stroll through the park will allow visitors to likely see deer, javelina, birds, and coyotes.
San Tan Mountain Regional Park: (spur route)
Consisting of over 10,000 acres, the southeast Valley park is a fine example of the lower Sonoran Desert. The park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. Goldmine Mountain is located in the northern area, with a spectacular San Tan Mountain escarpment in the southern portion of the park. The vegetation changes from creosote flats to dense saguaro forest. Various types of wildlife may be observed, including reptiles, birds, and mammals.
San Tan Mountain Regional Park also has a Visitor's Center. Don’t forget to stop by the Visitor's Center to pick up educational tidbits, purchase souvenir items, visit with park staff, and see the wildlife exhibits or tortoise habitat. Restroom facilities are available and additional amenities are slated for future development.
South Mountain Park:
South Mountain Park preserves in a natural state a mountainous area of 16,283 acres (65.89 km2) or approximately 25.5 mi² of native desert vegetation. Originally called Phoenix Mountain Park, it was formed in 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge sold its initial 13,000 acres (53 km²) to the city of Phoenix for $17,000. It has since been expanded through bond programs during 1970s into the early 1980s. It is located south of central Phoenix, hence the name. Since the naming, suburban growth has nearly surrounded the park. Ahwatukee now borders to the south and Laveen to the west.
South Mountain was originally known as the Salt River Mountains. The original mountain park committee consisted of J.C. Dobbins, chairman of the Phoenix city planning commission, Mrs. John Hampton, and H.B. Wilkinson. Dobbins Road, named after J.C. Dobbins, runs east and west just north of the park.
The park's lookout point rises over 1000 feet (305 m) above the desert floor. Beyond the roads leading to ramadas and the summit, the park features 58 miles (93 km) of trails for cycling, hiking and horseback riding. Much of the original park infrastructure was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s. The landmark Mystery Castle is located within its foothills.
Spur Crossing Ranch Conservation Park:
The newest addition to Maricopa Countys Regional Parks System, the conservation area encompasses 2,154 acres of diverse, rugged upper Sonoran Desert. The north Valley location contains fascinating archaeology sites and lush riparian areas along Cave Creek, which flows throughout the winter months. Remnants of early mining and ranching, from which the park gets its name, are still apparent in the park. This area is a must see for all wildflower lovers in the spring. The abundant vegetation present in the conservation area provides a rich habitat for a diverse assemblage of wildlife.
Usery Mountain Regional Park (spur route):
Located on the Valley’s east side, this park takes in 3,648 acres set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors.
White Tank Mountain Regional Park (spur route):
Nearly 30,000 acres makes this the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains on the Valleys west side. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons, rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet. Infrequent heavy rains cause flash floodwaters to plunge through the canyons and pour onto the plain. These torrential flows, pouring down chutes and dropping off ledges, have scoured out a series of depressions, or tanks, in the white granite rock below, thus giving the mountains their name.
"The Maricopa Trail - History
Wang, Amy (2009-11-24). "Scenic ‘pedestrian beltway' to link 9 Valley parks". The Arizona Republic. http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2009/11/24/20091124maricopatrail1124.html. Retrieved 2009-11-24.
Maricopa Trail: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Maricopa County Trail Program: MARICOPA COUNTY BICYCLE PROGRAM
Maricopa Trail Anthem to Spur Cross Map
The Maricopa Trail – From Vision to Fact
Maricopa County Regional Trail System PDF Plan Maps and detailed route description