City/Forest Service collaboration completes new stretch of trail along Prescott loop

Streamlining the Circle Trail

Over the Hill Gang volunteers Dave Fizzell, right, and Joe Smith, center, work to smooth and pack a section of the new Badger Trail this week. The volunteers, along with City of Prescott and U.S. Forest Service employees, have been working for months on a new section, which is a collaboration between the Forest Service and the city. Part of the trail traverses the Prescott National Forest, while a portion goes through Arizona State Land, for which the city bought the needed right-of-way. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Over the Hill Gang volunteers Dave Fizzell, right, and Joe Smith, center, work to smooth and pack a section of the new Badger Trail this week. The volunteers, along with City of Prescott and U.S. Forest Service employees, have been working for months on a new section, which is a collaboration between the Forest Service and the city. Part of the trail traverses the Prescott National Forest, while a portion goes through Arizona State Land, for which the city bought the needed right-of-way. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

No sooner had a group of hard-hatted volunteers scaled the steep, rough ravine off Senator Highway than sounds of metal hitting rock and dirt filled the air.

The volunteers — mostly retirees — are members of the intrepid Over the Hill Gang, the trail-building group that has added dozens of miles of new hiking and cycling routes in recent decades.

Their goal this week: To complete the 6.8-mile link between Highway 69 and the Ranch Trail, which is located beyond Badger “P” Mountain.

The mission was accomplished Monday, Nov. 13, when the final quarter-mile or so of the new section was slashed through the undergrowth and then smoothed by the McCleod-rake-wielding volunteers.

Improving connections

Chris Hosking, trails and natural parklands coordinator for the City of Prescott, explained that the new section of a trail has long been eyed as a way to make a section of the 55-mile Circle Trail more user-friendly.

The Prescott Circle Trail, which was largely completed in 2015, offers a recreational route around the community using a series of long-time trails and new sections.

While the new sections typically have a gradual grade and smooth surface, some of the older sections are more challenging.

The new Badger Trail project bypasses two such sections — the Turley Trail and Boy Scout Trail.

The two Government Canyon-area trails were not consistent with the easy-to-moderate character of much of the rest of the Circle Trail, say local trail experts.

“The Boy Scout Trail is in a ravine and too steep,” Hosking said, noting that mountain bikers and hikers often have difficulty maneuvering the rocky route.

Forest Service Trails and Wilderness Manager Jason Williams agreed, pointing out that both the Turley and Boy Scout trails were built decades ago, to different standards than are currently in use.

Still, Williams said, many hikers and bikers in the community enjoy the challenge. “When we said were going to reroute the Boy Scout and Turley trails, people said, ‘No, we love that trail,’” Williams said.

That led to a plan to build a new route, and leave the old Turley and Boy Scout trails in place.

To be consistent with the rest of the Circle Trail, “We needed to have a moderate option,” Williams said. “But users still have (the two original trails).”

Public/volunteer collaboration

In order to create the new option, the city needed to buy right-of-way from the Arizona State Land Department. Hosking said that was earlier accomplished, and the trail-building began this past spring.

Over the summer and fall, Hosking and a crew of about 20 Over the Hill Gang volunteers, as well as other volunteers and city employees, have put nearly 2,000 hours of work into building the trail.

The first step by Hosking involved following the contours of the terrain and flagging a logical trail route. Then, with help from the city’s fuels management crew, the brush was removed, and Hosking followed on an excavator to dig the first pass of the trail.

That is where the troop of Over the Hill Gang volunteers came in, smoothing out the dirt and removing rocks and tree roots.

This week, the group spread out along the unfinished section, using their McCleods to clear and pack the trail.

Volunteer Allan Grell, a part of the group for about five years, said he enjoys various aspects of the work. “Number one, you’re outside,” he said. “And since my wife and I utilize the trails, this is a good way to pay back.”

Just down the trail, Ralph Dinsman noted that he has been a part of the Over the Hill Gang since about 2005, and has worked on about three-dozen trails. As a hiker, he sometimes commented on the condition of the trails, he said, and he decided to pitch in with the work.

First-time Over the Hill Gang volunteer Andi Abad said she also become interested in volunteering because of her love of getting out on the trails. “I’m a big hiker, and I like to be outside working, and being able to contribute,” she said.

Also collaborating on the project was the Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance (PMBA). Brent Roberts, president of the group, said alliance members have been regular volunteers on the project, working alongside the Over the Hill Gang.

“This will make the Circle Trail a little bit more accessible,” he said during a break from the work on Monday. Although noting that the Boy Scout Trail traverses a “gorgeous little canyon,” Roberts said some less-experienced mountain bikers have difficulty navigating it, and even expert cyclists have suffered injuries there.

Accessing the new Badger Trail

To get to the new section of the Badger Trail, users can use the Turley Trailhead (205 Wells Fargo Road, via Gurley Street, Robinson Drive, Butterfield Road, and Wells Fargo Road, www.prescott-az.gov/_d/trails/turley_trail_map.pdf).

Circle Trail signs direct users toward the Badger Trail off the Turley Trail, and Hosking said new signs would be posted soon to point the way to the new section.

The new trail cuts across the chaparral near “P” Mountain and switches back and forth through numerous small canyons before meeting up with the Ranch Trail. Along the way, it offers sweeping views of Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain.

Williams cautioned that until the new section is packed down with the help of precipitation, the surface will be relatively rough.