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DESERT EXPOSURE

FEBRUARY 2019 • 25

Heart of the Gila Trails Partnership Harnessing the strength of a wide variety of organizations to accomplish boots-on-theground improvements to trails in the Gila Wilderness and ensure a legacy of access to the Gila. HOTG Trails Partnership works closely with the Wilderness District of the Gila to offer stewardship projects in coordination with the National Forest Service. Accomplishments in 2018 608 hours of volunteer trail work through partnerships Trail Maintenance Projects • West Fork Trail • Granny Mountain Trail • Ring Canyon Trail • Middle Fork Trail near the Meadows • Little Bear Trail • CDT Trail north of near Fisherman’s Canyon

No Barriers Warriors working on the Middle Fork of the Gila River, Gila Wilderness with HOTG Trails Partnership

Sign up to volunteer at heartofthegila.org/get-involved/ or email them at heartofthegilatrails@gmail.com heartofthegila.org/donate/

HITTING THE TRAIL • ALEXANDRA TAGER

Heart of the Gila

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey

T

rail..…”a rough path across open country or through forests”…. Walking along the West Fork Trail of the Gila River, each turn reveals another clear, pristine pool of water, a dripping waterfall in a steep arroyo of mossy rocks, or an expansive view of towering hoodoos – the elegant piles of rock that characterize the canyons of the Gila. High above the river, a pack string and rider wind their way up a century old path, high into the old growth Ponderosa Pine forest and emerge into a meadow clearing filled with grazing elk.

In the Gila Wilderness, trails are essential Trails provide access to this rugged and vast wilderness – the nation’s first. A landscape of flowing rivers, hidden streams and cool mountain tops, the Gila flows with living energy in the midst of the arid Southwest. Trails matter to hunters, fish-

Professional Outfitters and Guides, Hunters and Backpackers, all benefit from trails. (Photos courtesy HOTG)

erman, birders, horse-packers and the thousands of people who use them each year to access the remote expanses of the Gila. But mounting evidence suggests we are losing our wilderness trails. “Trail-based recreation is the number one activity on the Gila National Forest (GNF), yet despite this fact there has been two decades of severe budget cuts to trail maintenance funding,” said Melissa Green, Heart of the Gila Trails Partnership manager. “Large landscape level wildfires followed by flooding com-

pounded this problem. The fact is, trails become exponentially more expensive and labor intensive to maintain if they are not worked on every three to five years, so the problem will get worse if we don’t

Before heading out on the trail Link to the Heart of the Gila trails information page (heartofthegila. org/trail-info/) Download the Trails Cleared Maps and Document Contact the Gila National Forest Public Information Office:575-388-8201 Check out the book “The Falcon Guide: Hiking New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness” released in 2017. This book is an excellent reference for planning your adventure in the Gila Wilderness.

Melissa Green near Aspen Mountain in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness – surveying hazard trees after the Silver Fire of 2013.

do something soon.” Green should know. She has hiked her share of trail miles in the Gila. In 2005, Green worked as a Conservation Corps Crew Leader in the Gila National Forest then did seasonal trail work in the Black Range. Since 2008, she has worked on professional trail crews in both the Gila and Aldo Leopold wilderness areas. Green is a passionate advocate for wilderness trails and works with the Forest Service on bringing current trails information to the public. Her field surveys revealed that of the 490 miles of trails east of Mogollon Baldy, over 75 percent are difficult to access because of lack of maintenance. “We don’t think about trails as part of the economic infrastructure of an area,” Green said. “But we should. Trails in the Gila Wilderness are fundamental to our economy.” Tourism is the second largest industry in New Mexico and the state’s abundant natural resources and extensive public lands are essential to that equation. A study by the Outdoor Industry Associ-

GILA

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Desert Exposure - February 2019  

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