By Trails Inspire founder, Sirena Rana Dufault
I received an invite to attend the Summit for Arizona Trails 2020 that stated, “If you have a passion for trails and are actively engaged in advocacy, management or volunteerism, we hope you’ll join us!” It sounded like a perfect fit for Trails Inspire, since we promote the outdoors via trail design, writing, public speaking and photography. I signed up and filled out a questionnaire that asked about items and issues that were of interest for discussion at the Summit.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I looked at the website, which said:
This could be:
• space for advocacy on the local, regional, state and national level
• space to share resources and knowledge among organizations that are not already operating in partnership but may be working on similar goals.
• the beginning of building a lasting coalition to elevate the discussion of trail related recreation within our state and community.
Interesting, I thought. As the event got closer, I was discussing the published agenda with colleagues and we all wondered what the Summit would be like. You see, there hadn’t been any kind of gathering of this type for 13 years!
It was held in Cottonwood, in Central Arizona at the historic Community Clubhouse. The location in Old Town was great, in a building made from stones from the Verde River and blocks of red sandstone from nearby Sedona.
There were 105 attendees and as soon as I stepped in the building, you could feel the buzz of activity as folks caught up with each other over lunches by Beyond Bread. The trails community is small and to have a bunch of folks all in one room was invigorating.
The last time I’d been in the area was to give a presentation on the Economic Benefits of Trails to the Cottonwood Economic Development Council in 2016. Mayor Tim Elinski had just been elected and was very enthusiastic about trails. He opened the Summit and spoke about the work of the Verde Front sustainable recreation collaborative.
Wendy Lotze, Summit Steering Committee Chair and Volunteer Program Manager for the Arizona Trail Association gave an introduction to how our time would be spent together and how the Summit came to be. Her infectious enthusiasm got everyone excited to proceed.
“The Summit is really meant to be one small but significant part of a much larger effort to foster collaboration and cooperation among the trails community in Arizona,” says Wendy. “Many of us are struggling with the same things and fighting the same fights. We can find greater power and success if not only realize that we’re not alone out on the trail, but leverage our numbers and our influence to help each other.”
Everyone went around the room and briefly introduced themselves, it was interesting to see the representation of folks from agencies such as the Office of Tourism, Forest Service and Arizona State Parks and Trails, trail users and advocates from communities across Arizona, professional trail designers and builders, Conservation Corps and more.
Mayor Mila Besich of Superior gave an inspiring presentation, “What Trails Bring to our Communities and How to Make it Happen.” It was about the process the town went through to create the Legends of Superior Trails (LOST), the first Gateway Community connector trail to the Arizona National Scenic Trail, and how recreation has been a big piece of the town’s renaissance and rebranding as the “Small Town Event Capital of the World.”
The second half of the day was a Trails café; Elevating our Trails Community. Topics for group discussions had been chosen by the committee in response to the pre-summit survey, and we were told to choose three topics to explore. I chose Trail construction and maintenance techniques, Diversity and inclusion, and Navigating the planning/permitting process. The roundtable discussions discussed current efforts, challenges, successes and cool ideas for each topic and after three rounds the results were shared with the whole room.
- Recruiting and managing volunteers
- Navigating the planning/permitting process
- Outreach and Promotion
- Trail construction and maintenance techniques
- Diversity and inclusion
- Cross-Jurisdictional trail planning
- Statewide trail advocacy
- Trails and the environment
It was interesting to hear the results and we chose a number of topics as a group to concentrate on for the following day.
After our group photo, I took a walk on the Jail Trail along the Verde River and into Dead Horse Ranch State Park for the sunset. It was great to see the improvements that had been made since my visit in 2016. We reconvened for a networking get-together at THAT Brewery. Owners Steve and Tamara Morken are the brewers of Arizona Trail Ale, and a portion of the proceeds goes to the Arizona Trail Association. THAT Brewery provided a perfect location for getting to know new folks from the Summit and reconnect with colleagues.
Day 2 began with a Q & A with Tom Adams, Chief Operating Officer of Petzl, who was the former director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation. With so many states creating their own Offices of Outdoor Recreation, it was interesting to discuss how that might be implemented here in Arizona.
We reconvened for another series of roundtable discussions,including more in-depth discussion of ideas and topics from day one including; a shared process to promote diversity on trails, statewide coordination of political advocacy, shared fundraising efforts, better integrating recreation and ecological restoration efforts, trail design and management and engaging the business community. One of the topics was how to build upon the momentum created by this initial gathering. Most agreed that it would be ideal to have at least one Trails Summit a year to continue the work we’d started.
Wendy Lotze was thrilled to see enthusiasm for continuing the work. “It’s like a referendum to keep up the good work. We suspected there was a need, and now we know that it’s real and that a gathering like the Summit can begin to address that need to build more community. It’s like building trails, only with less dirt and lighter tools.”
The organizers gave participants one minute each to hype their current projects and then the session closed with a raffle of items donated by the event sponsors. The raffle was specifically to raise money to fund scholarships for the next Summit.
I was really pleased with my time at the Summit. I enjoyed the discussions, networking and learning about what works for others. It was invigorating to share ideas with other trail professionals and I am excited to see what comes of the action items the group identified. Thanks to the Steering Committee and the sponsors for a fantastic event.