The Arizona National Scenic Trail is, to some, a hidden treasure. A path that is quite literally less traveled.
The trail stretches nearly 1,000 miles, from the Utah state line to the Mexico border. It was recently designated by Congress, which comes with a requirement that managing agencies have to develop a plan to protect and preserve the trail's resources.
Federal agencies are now holding community meetings statewide to gather input for managing the trail.
"The Arizona trail is only about 30 years old, and it was developed in concept by one individual, Dale Shewalter, a flagstaff area school teacher that had a vision of a trail that traversed the entire state," said Matt Nelson, Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association. Nelson calls the trail the "best-kept secret in the state".
"Some of the most incredible places that if the trail weren't built through there, people would probably never visit," said Nelson.
From hikers to mountain bikers to equestrians to runners, every piece of the trail offers a different challenge, a different landscape. At a point on the trail called Picket Post, for example, the rocky trails are surrounded by mountains, and often lead to the unexpected.
One day, Phil Bernacke, 69, stopped to admire the landscape of the Picket Post Trail, near Superior. Bernacke lives in Queen Valley, a town approximately 17 miles west of Superior.
"I mean look at this," said Bernacke. "You can't beat that, you know. It's just a beautiful view."
Superior is considered a gateway community. According to the town's mayor, it is the most central point of the Arizona trail.
"We're proud to be an example of you can both combine your traditional industry and this eco-tourism," said Mayor Mila Besich Lira. "Putting that all together, working closely with the Forest Service. Things do need to be protected, but we also have to make sure that everyone has access. Usability all the way around."
From Superior, one can head to Tucson, where Gabe Zimmerman Trail is a perfect example of how different each and every single mile of the Arizona trail really is.
The Arizona Trail Association was formed in 1994. These days, it helps all of the volunteers coordinate maintenance efforts with the federal and state agencies that run the land the trail snakes through.
There is no permit system, so it is difficult for the association to determine exactly how many hikers complete the entire trail. In 2016, however, 200 registered online, saying they did. Nelson jokes that most people seem to be on a 10-year plan, when it comes to completing the trail, enjoying the trail a few days or a few miles at a time.
"If I was younger, I might do the whole thing," said Bernackle. "These days, I just pick out little parts of it and do what I do."
The next Arizona trail meeting will be held in Tempe on August 17th. It will be open to the public.
Arizona Trail Association