HAPPY TRAILS: Winter visitors help build trails they enjoy at CG Mountain
|Steven King/Dispatch, Three winter visitors hike along a trail at Casa Grande Mountain Park early Tuesday morning. Pictured are, from left, Peter Hughes from British Columbia, Skip Emerson from Oregon and Jim Price, a full-time RVer from Texas.|
As leaders of the Palm Creek Hiking Club, Skip Emerson and Peter Hughes spend much of their week on area trails, leading groups of hikers on excursions, scouting new trails and volunteering, often alongside AmeriCorps crews and others, to create new trails and maintain current ones in Casa Grande Mountain Park.
“We use these trails, and volunteering to help maintain them or improve the park is our way of giving back,” Hughes said.
Hughes and Emerson are among the many winter visitors whose volunteer labor has helped to accelerate development of a system of multi-use trails and paths in Casa Grande Mountain Park.
“We’ve been supporting Casa Grande Mountain Park since the beginning,” Emerson said. “We always have a good time.”
When new National Civilian Community Corps AmeriCorps teams are assigned to the Casa Grande Mountain trail development project, Emerson and Hughes, along with fellow volunteers Jim Price and Dan McDougall, are among the winter visitors who work alongside the crew, helping them to become oriented with the mountain and the project and teaching them to create new trails.
Between the community trail building events and day-to-day work on the mountain, about 60 percent of the volunteers at Casa Grande Mountain Park are winter visitors, said Anita Avila, a spokesman for the Casa Grande Community Services Department.
Since work began in Casa Grande Mountain Park on the southern end of the city in 2007, nearly 12 miles of trails have been created or improved.
The mountain park trails officially opened in November.
“Since the trails are 100 percent built by volunteers, having all hands on deck helped us to open the mountain as soon as we did,” Avila said.
She estimated that to date, about 8,042 feet of newly developed trails on the mountain are the direct result of winter visitor volunteer labor.
“Aside from monthly trail builds, we have winter visitors working with AmeriCorps during the week and preparing for trail builds, which involves marking the trails to be built with construction markers and other preparation like lunch and such,” Avila said.
Emerson, who lives in Oregon and spends six months every year in Casa Grande, regularly encourages members of the Palm Creek Hiking Club to participate in the Community Service Department’s monthly community trail building events at Casa Grande Mountain Park.
The work day events often attract 100 community volunteers at a time and anywhere from 15 to 30 of the volunteers are from Palm Creek Golf and RV Resort, said Hughes.
“We usually end up with more than we need,” said Hughes, who lives in British Columbia, Canada, during warmer months.
Last year, the volunteers from Palm Creek contributed 370 man-hours at Casa Grande Mountain Park, building an estimated 1,500 feet of trail, Hughes said. This year, they expect the same.
Price, a winter visitor from Texas who resides at Eloy’s Robson Ranch, also rallies residents of his community for the monthly Casa Grande Mountain trail building events.
“We don’t have as many volunteers from Robson Ranch as Palm Creek has, but we get a few,” his wife, Sue, said.
Like Hughes and Emerson, Price spends at least one day a month on the mountain, sometimes more.
“When the new AmeriCorps teams come in, he goes out there to teach them how to lay trail,” Sue said.
Hughes said that volunteers often realize the satisfaction of trail building work as soon as a day’s work is completed.
“You work on the trail and then you feel good walking back down the trail you just made,” he said.
Emerson was one of the founding members of the Palm Creek Hiking Club, which was started in 2002. He had retired in 1998 and soon after, he and his wife turned to full-time traveling in their recreational vehicle.
Emerson said he started hiking as a way to see the new places he and his wife were visiting.
“It’s exciting to see what’s on the other side of the hill,” Emerson said.
Hughes began helping with the hiking club in 2006 and over the years, the group has grown to include about 60 members.
Together, the club visits various locales within a 75-mile radius, taking hikes that range from easy four-mile wilderness walks to more challenging nine-mile adventures along rugged mountain terrain.
Besides Casa Grande Mountain, the group tends to visit other popular hiking spots such as Lost Dutchman State Park, Piestewa Peak, Sabino Canyon and other places.
Hughes said the group tries to avoid using the same trail twice, so a group of eight experienced hikers often scout nearby areas for new locales.
“Arizona has some of the most beautiful hikes,” Hughes said.
He added that hiking appeals to people, including retired individuals, because it helps them realize their capabilities.
“A lot of people underestimate their capabilities,” he said. “Then they get out there hiking or building trails and they realize what they can do.”