What do they say? A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step?
Well, that has certainly been the case with the Maricopa Trail, the 315-mile trail system that connects all the regional parks across our 9,200-square mile-county. In November, the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department celebrated the completion of Phase 1. I think it’s worth looking at how far we’ve come and where we still have to go.
It started in 2000 when I was still a spring chicken, sort of. A different Board of Supervisors formed the Maricopa County Trails Commission with the goal of creating a regional trail system. Four years later, the board adopted the Maricopa Regional Trail System Plan with three primary objectives:
1. Connect the Maricopa County Regional Parks
2. Link metropolitan areas, communities and neighborhoods
3. Provide open space corridors to protect natural and cultural resources for future generations.
The Maricopa Trail has its roots here in District 4. Shortly after the plan was adopted, staff started by identifying the best trail corridors linking White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area and Cave Creek Regional Park. Since then, the department has been hard at work acquiring trail easements and planning, laying out and constructing the 104 segments of trail system.
It goes without saying that there are thousands of trails you could walk, bike, hike or ride in the Phoenix metro area, not all on county land. Stitching these pieces of trails together to form a loop has required partnerships and, over the years, Maricopa County Parks has worked with numerous cities, towns, federal, state and county departments to figure out logistics which can involve complicated issues such as right-of-way questions, water rights and more.
The Parks Department has also built relationships with businesses and nonprofits so that, as the trail system is being built, more residents know about it, support it and ultimately benefit from it in a myriad of ways beyond just recreation. Those partnerships include the Maricopa Trail and Parks Foundation, Central Arizona Conservation Alliance, Arizona Forward, REI, Chambers of Commerce and many more.
As the trail has developed and expanded, so have recreation opportunities along the trail. A few years back, former Supervisor Andy Kunasek and a couple of key community members founded the Prickly Pedal Mountain Bike Race on the Maricopa Trail so riders from across the nation could test their skills on the Trail’s challenging 40-mile course. The race not only brings many out-of-state visitors to our county, but also promotes the trail itself. Since the beginning, Hickman’s Family Farms has been a proud sponsor of the event, and when I can, I serve breakfast to the racers. The next Prickly Pedal is January 19.
Whether the trail is being used for races, a leisurely family hike, as part of a multiday trek or as a transportation corridor, everyone seems to love the idea of a single trail connecting such a vast and diverse landscape.
There’s still much work to be done to achieve the vision of a fully-connected regional park system. While a loop system has been completed, the County is anxious to develop a connection to our newest County gems, the Hassayampa River Preserve and the Vulture Mountains. We want to link to the Buckeye Hills Regional Park in the far West Valley as well. And, of course, we’ll continue to improve the nature experience for trail users, while keeping the needs of neighboring communities in mind.
The Maricopa County Trail has always been a step-by-step project. But as we mark this major milestone, now is as good a time as any to hit the trail and experience Maricopa County in a new way.