Recently we were introduced to a very cool organization that we would like to talk a little bit about.
The organization is TRĀL which stands for the Tonto Recreational Alliance.
TRĀL is nonprofit 501C3 organization that is committed to representing the OHV community who use public forest service lands within the Tonto National Forest. At nearly 3 million acres the Tonto NF is the 6th largest national forest in the country and the largest in Arizona. If you are not familiar with the area, The Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful land in the country. Sonoran Desert cacti and flat lands slowly give way to the highlands of the Mogollon Rim. This variety in vegetation and range in altitude -- from 1,300 to 7,900 feet -- offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it's lake beaches or cool pine forest.
As most are aware, the OHV community is constantly being targeted by anti motorized groups who would like nothing more than to close down the entire forest to many recreational opportunities.
The folks at TRĀL have forged a unique relationship with the Forest service and have been able to secure a stake for the OHV community in some of the planning and decisions that are made which directly affect our recreational opportunities.
Unfortunately, the Forest Service itself has very little funding to maintain existing resources let alone initiate new projects relating to OHV usage.
TRĀL works with the forest service to help inventory, monitor and maintain many popular trails among the over 3000 miles of existing trails. This is no small task. TRĀL is a nonprofit organization with no direct source of funding. Some of that funding comes from the very sparse federal grants which are difficult to secure.
However, a huge portion of funding relies on donations from companies and individuals as well. This funding helps TRĀL to fund various project throughout the entire forest. Projects include inspecting and inventories of existing trails to identify problems like erosion and route deviation. They also hold many trail maintenance events where volunteers actually do trail repairs and maintenance.
TRĀL asks that prospective volunteers participate in an orientation presentation that is conducted via Zoom. After that Volunteers can sign up to attend any of the scheduled project work days. After meeting the president of TRĀL we scheduled our orientation and then got on the schedule for a recent trail repair day near Sunflower AZ.
Trail Repair Day
We were very surprised to see ten rigs show up with over 20 people total on a very nice Saturday morning. Included in the group was TRĀL president Rich Smith along with their lead trail work organizer, Richard. After a brief safety discussion and an overview of the day's schedule we all headed out to see what this was all about.
A little background on Sunflower Mine Trail
We were working on the Sunflower Loop trail which lies just a few miles northeast of the community of Sunflower AZ, just about halfway between Mesa and Payson on SR 87. The trail is named from.. you guessed it, The Sunflower Mine!
The Sunflower Mine was discovered in 1911 by E.H. Bowman. Bowman intending to find gold instead discovered a rich vein of cinnabar. Cinnabar, an ore of mercury, was used in the amalgamation of gold and was an essential part of gold mining.
The mine was later purchased by the Sunflower Mining Company. A large processing facility was built onsite to break down the ore into mercury whereby it was shipped by wagon and eventually truck. The workings consist of impressively sized open cuts, tunnels and underground stopping. From 1913 to 1965, an estimated 3,973 flasks of mercury were produced and 2,140 pounds of copper. Also, very notable was 764 ounces of gold and 1,095 ounces of silver.
Today very little remains of the original mining operation but the trail leading to the mine has remained fairly intact for over 100 years now. The trail has become a very popular route for OHV users looking for a beautiful yet challenging adventure. The entire area is rich in history and beauty.
Our group of well-equipped vehicles headed down the trail in a counter clockwise direction along a shelf road, descending into a deep canyon. Not far down the trail our leader stopped at a fairly sharp wall to cliff turn and we got our first look at the problemed area. Recent rains in the area had begun to deteriorate the innermost edge of the turn and created a pretty huge washed-out hole. If left unattended, a few more rainstorms would clearly make the trail extremely dangerous at best or completely impassable at worst.
The biggest problem faced by the OHV community is that once a trail becomes a public safety issue, it is easier for the forest service to simply close the route. When this happens, it takes nearly an act of congress to reopen the route. Our group quickly accessed the road damage and came up with a plan which included moving a fairly large number of rocks from the rocky canyon bottom and literally building up the washed-out area while at the same time lowering the cliff side of the corner to lessen the off-camber possibilities when traversing the corner.
A few hours, a little sweat and some laughs the group all agreed that the repair was a success and the group traveled back out of the canyon to a very cool lunch location.
We had a good opportunity to chat with the TRĀL members and realized the immense shared passion that each of us had for the preservation of our OHV opportunities. We talked about other trails that we had been on as well as some of the places that we could no longer visit because they had fallen prey to the problems we have talked about.
After Lunch the majority of the group was up for a trail ride so we set off to run the entire trail which is normally run in a clockwise direction and ends up back to the starting point. The trail is challenging and beautiful in so many ways. It was a great day and we met a number of great people.
The OHV community truly needs more organizations like TRĀL. Every day we hear about the opportunities and the access that we lose. Seldom do we find a group that is working on our behalf and doing good things to help the OHV community, not only to preserve our trails and our opportunities but to help improve our image as OHV users. We urge you to check out the Tral organization and see how you can be a part of the program. Jagged X Off Road is working to find creative ways to help them continue this great work.
See you on the trail!