by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Services Coordinator, Prescott Parks and Recreation
The City of Prescott now offers 100 miles of trails within the City limits for hiking, bicycling or horseback riding.
Just in time for National Trails Day, the milestone was reached by the Over the Hill Gang while constructing a 0.2 mile section of trail within the recently purchased Storm Ranch open space parcel. National Trails Day falls annually on the first Saturday in June and this year marked the 50th anniversary of our forefather’s efforts to preserve much of the natural beauty throughout the country.
President Lyndon Johnson initiated what became known as The National Trails System Act of 1968 with his speech on the “Conservation and Preservation of Natural Beauty” in February 1965. In his speech, he requested that the Secretary of the Interior form a committee of legislators to collaborate on a cooperative program resulting in a report titled Trails for America. This report eventually became The National Trails System Act of 1968 with some slight differences, but essentially allowing for the designation of three different types of trails: National Scenic Trails, National Recreation Trails and Connecting and Side Trails. President Jimmy Carter later added National Historic Trails to the categories.
Locally, we have the Peavine Trail, which is designated as a National Recreation Trail. These types of trails are designated based on the criteria that they provide opportunities for outdoor recreation primarily in and around urban areas and have no minimal length requirement. The National Trails System Act is also significant in that it established the concept of railbanking, which allows for the popular rails-trails network across present day America.
Prescott’s Peavine National Recreation Trail was constructed during the infancy of the Mile High Trail System, in the late 1990s. Prior to its construction, the system totaled only two and a half miles in length. Adding 5.2 miles to the system, the Peavine Trail is by far the City’s most visited trail, with over 70,000 visits annually. The Peavine Trail officially opened in time for National Trails day in June 1999.
Gaining momentum from the newly-constructed Peavine, the City began construction on the Greenways Phase I, Willow Lake, Cottonwood Peninsula and Jan Alfano/Embry Riddle Trails, bringing the total mileage to 23.30 by the end of 2005. Demand for more trails also propelled expansion of the Mile High Trail System, as seen with the urban Greenways Trail. Used primarily as a commuter trail, the Greenways connects downtown businesses with the Rodeo Grounds and the Centennial Trail that connects to neighborhoods including Forest Trails, Enchanted Canyon and Thumb Butte Recreation area.
The benefits of having green infrastructure such as parks and trails go beyond offering an alternative mode of transportation. In fact, trails contribute to the local economy by increasing property values, reducing medical costs through preventative health care, and generating tax dollars. Outdoor recreation in America has been valued at $887 billion in spending, with about $201 billion directly from trail recreation. According to “The Outdoor Recreation Economy,” a publication produced by the outdoor industry in 2017, every year outdoor recreation generates $124.5 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue, with $28.3 billion from trail recreation.
According to a Prescott Visitor survey conducted by Northern Arizona University in 2014-2015, about 40 percent of respondents cited hiking or walking trails as the top attraction. In addition to significantly contributing to the local economy, trail use can lead to improved quality of life. Research supports that hiking or walking can reduce obesity, diabetes, heart disease and improve overall mental health.
Prescott’s trail system will continue to grow in the next several years with the completion of the Storm Ranch trails (6.25 miles) later this year, a connection from Constellation to Peavine, and eventually a trail to the top of Glassford Hill.
As the City continues to increase in trail mileage, it is important to note the participants that have helped make this success possible: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott College, Yavapai College, Over the Hill Gang, Youth Conservation Corps, Yavapai Trails Association, Open Space Alliance, Greenways Committee, Prescott Alternative Transportation, Eagle Scouts, various church groups, various schools, Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters, Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance (PMBA), International Mountain Bike Alliance (IMBA), Bike Prescott, Back Country Horsemen, Granite Mountain Riders, Prescott Creeks, Prescott Trail Riders, Prescott Outings Club, Prescott National Forest, Granite Dells Foundation, Save the Dells, grants from ACF, CDGB, RTP, ISTEA, FHWA, ADOT, Arizona State Parks, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), Arizona State Land Department, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), various land donors, many businesses and private donors, the towns of Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, and Yavapai County, the Northern Arizona Veteran’s Administration (VA) and likely many more. For more information on how to volunteer with the Over the Hill Gang please visit: prescott-az.gov/recreation-events/recreation-areas/volunteer/trails-volunteers/ or for more information on the Mile High Trail system: prescotttrails.com.