The proposed new routing of the AZ Trail, which will bypass Harshaw and Temporal Canyon Roads, may take five years to complete. Map Courtesy of Arizona Trail Assn.

Proposals to reroute a portion of the Arizona Trail north of Patagonia may soon become a reality after ten years of planning by the Arizona Trail Association (ATA). The new route would eliminate the three miles of pavement on Harshaw Rd. and the 12 miles of dirt road on Temporal Canyon Rd. It would also move the trail out of the Mt. Wrightson wilderness area.

The new trail will be a result of a collaboration with Sonoita Creek Ranch, owned by Hudbay Minerals, part of their mitigation plan for the Rosemont Mine north of Sonoita, the Coronado National Forest and local conservation group Wildlife Corridors LLC, which owns the land to the west of Hwy 82 abutting the forest.

Moving the trail away from Harshaw Rd. is a priority for ATA executive director Matt Nelson. “This is the longest stretch of road on the Arizona Trail,” he said recently. “Everybody loves Patagonia, but this stretch is everybody’s least favorite part of the trail,” he added, citing surveys filled out by trail users. He also pointed out that the stretch of
pavement is the most dangerous section of the trail for equestrians, because of traffic on the narrow, winding road. The situation has gotten much worse in recent years due to the increase in Border Patrol and mining vehicles. Nelson is concerned that there will be a serious accident if the trail is not rerouted off the paved road. “Something bad is going to happen,” he said.

Another advantage of the proposed rerouting is the potential to move the trail out of the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness Area. Currently, mountain bike users, prohibited in wilderness areas, have to avoid that whole section of the trail, ride on state highways through Sonoita and rejoin the trail in Gardner Canyon.

The proposed route also would enable trail walkers and equestrians to make a loop that circles back through the wilderness area from the Temporal Canyon or Gardner Canyon trailheads. A second loop going through the Harshaw Rd. trailhead connecting to the new trail, which will begin three miles to the east, and then coming south to the Temporal Gulch Trailhead and back to Patagonia would also be created. The town of Patagonia would be a hub for both these loops. A new trailhead on Hwy 82 near Casa Blanca Canyon Rd. on land owned by Wildlife Corridors will be created. A large culvert under the highway will
connect the east and west sides of the trail at that location.

‘They [Hudbay] have approved a trail across their property with a perpetual easement, but not a specific site,” Nelson said. “The idea of a recreational trail fits with their master plan.” According to Kathy Arnold, Director of Environment for Hudbay, plans haven’t been finalized, but “we’ve been working with them [ATA] for a while to ensure that we understand their needs,” she said. “They’re a great partner for us,” she added. “We don’t want to restrict public access to the extent it’s allowed under our permits.”

Wildlife Corridors founder Ron Pulliam feels that the trail is an important part of his organization’s master plan. “We think that the extent to which Wildlife Corridors will be appreciated by the community will be determined by their sense of connection to the land.
We want people to feel that connection so that they will care for the land.”

Nelson has been working with the Forest Service, as well, as much of the proposed trail is in the National Forest. “We’ve had to pay for the NEPA study,” he said, which is being paid for in part by a federal RAC grant. The cost of the study, which examines archeological
and environmental impacts of projects undertaken in the forest, is projected to be $20,000. He estimates that there would have been a 12-year delay if the Forest Service had done the NEPA study in-house. “I expect the study to be done and submitted to the Forest service by
September 30, 2019,” he said. He hopes to have approval from the Forest Service the following year.

ATA is presently working to raise the necessary funds for construction of the trail, which Nelson estimates will cost $1million. “The timing [for construction] is funding dependent,” he said. The 27 miles of new trail will be “in deep, deep forest…There are not even animal trails.” He thinks it may take five years to complete. “This project can have its cost reduced significantly with volunteer trail construction,” he noted. “Volunteer labor is increasingly important because those who build the trail will maintain it in the future.”