Ryan Stanton, rstanton@ExplorerNews.com
Oct. 26, 2005 - Dove Mountain hikers saw the fruits of their labor Oct. 22 as they marched through the Tortolitas on trails some of them helped build earlier this spring.
Armed with energy bars and bottled water, about 100 hikers trekked up the steep terrain of Wild Burro Canyon as part of Tortolita Mountain Trails Day, hosted by Marana's Parks and Recreation Department.
A picnic at Dove Mountain Community Park following the hike kicked off a campaign to raise awareness of the town's proposed trail system. The town plans to begin accepting bids this week to build seven miles of trails known as the Upper Javelina Trail, Wild Mustang Trail and Alamo Spring Trail.
Earlier this spring, volunteers like Dove Mountain residents Ralph Reis and Tom Feldsien spent long hours clearing vegetation and moving rocks to make a one-mile path now known as Wild Burro Canyon Trail. Another mile of trails deeper into the canyon has been developed to a lesser extent and the town is seeking volunteers to expand it further.
When complete, the town hopes to have built a 32-mile trail system for hiking, biking and horseback riding in the Tortolitas, said Marana Parks Superintendent Tom Ellis.
"The reason we're doing it with volunteers is not because we can't afford to build the trails but because it gives the neighbors and the hikers a chance to buy in and be a part of something," Ellis said. "The Tortolitas are just an incredibly magnificent little range and it's real special to know that you had a part in putting that trail system together."
Those who ventured out Oct. 22 had the choice of two trips: a two-mile hike along the finished part of Wild Burro Canyon Trail, or a four-mile trip that included going farther along the lesser developed path.
Barb Farr, a member of the Heritage Highlands Hiking Club, led a pack of 22 people who went on one of the longer hikes that left at 7:30 a.m. Pink ribbons marked the second half of the trail, where a more rustic route is still laced with cacti and other vegetation yet to be removed.
"There's a lot of trail development that needs to take place and we still need volunteers," said Farr, who added that hiking in her own backyard beats driving to Sabino Canyon.
Heritage Highlands resident Karen Shane stopped midway through the hike to give an impromtu nature lesson. The retired Albuquerque historian showed fellow hikers how to produce a vivid red dye by smashing the tiny female cochineal insects that gather on the white clusters of prickly pear cacti. The extracted dye is said to have been used by ancient people for coloring fabrics and other decorations, she said.
Heritage Highlands residents Ron Compton and Roger Mayer followed closely on the heels of Farr most of the day. Compton, a 72-year-old California native, said he used to run marathons and still hikes regularly, though this was his first hike of the season.
"It was very enjoyable," he said after reaching an elevation of 3,422 feet, more than 500 feet higher than where he started. "I've been up here before but it was nice to see them clear the trail and make it a little bit easier."
Farr stopped along the way to point out various landmarks, including a 20-by-40-foot cistern at the foot of the trail where ranchers once stored water for their livestock. Many of the trails throughout the Tortolitas have been used historically for running cattle.
Remnants of an old stone shack rest a short way up the trail, which the town is trying to find funding to rebuild. Other manmade features along the way included ancient Indian petroglyphs inscribed along the sides of large rock formations.
Jim Bradbury, a snowbird resident in Heritage Highlands, who arrived from Oregon one week before the hike, was joined by his wife Trish. Bradbury said he never hiked the path before but agreed with others that the land they walked on was an asset to the community.
"It should be preserved, and we should make as much use of this area as we can," he said, adding that the trails are "much better than a string of condos."
Starting in November, volunteers will help extend Wild Burro Canyon Trail another two miles to the north. The town and volunteers will be out blazing trails on the second Thursday and third Saturday of each month between November and May. Ellis said he hopes to have a nine-mile loop system in place by May.
Wild Burro Canyon will eventually connect to a trail running along the Central Arizona Project canal and then into Marana's system along the Santa Cruz River, Ellis said. Marana's trails also will tie into Pima County's system.
The town anticipates the trails will be used primarily by people living in and around the mountain, though they will be open to the public. Alamo Loop will be a two-mile trail for hikers and horseback riders, while Wild Mustang and Upper Javalina will be multiple-use trails allowing mountain bikes.
Judy Wilson, one of the charter members of the Heritage Highlands Hiking Club, said residents move from other states to live in Dove Mountain for many reasons, including recreational opportunities.
"Coming into our community, the one thing they want to do, obviously, is play golf," she said. "But after that, the next thing is hiking."
George Hammond, who was the first hike leader in the Heritage Highlands Hiking Club that formed five years ago, led a group of hikers through the new trails. Marana residents and other members of the public have a great opportunity to hike the Tortolitas, he said, but "you've got to get out here to see it."
Catalina resident Bev Showalter, of the trail advocacy group County Line Riders of Catalina, took that advice and joined Dove Mountain residents during their four-mile trek through the canyon.
"I'm not a hiker, so if I can do it, anyone can," she said afterward. "I think it's definitely worth going up."
The Heritage Highlands Hiking Club has about 200 members solely from the age-restricted community. The younger Dove Mountain Hiking Club, which formed last November, has about 45 members and includes residents from all communities in Dove Mountain.
The Dove Mountain Hiking Club has gone on several hiking trips this year, including some to Ventana Canyon, the Grand Canyon and Chiricahua National Monument, said Paula Euchner, the group's communications officer who helped coordinate this past weekend's event.
Euchner said the group's members range in age from 40 years old up to senior citizens, and the group is always welcoming new members. The club tries to do one hike in the middle of the week and another on the weekend, she said.
"One of the reasons we had this hike and picnic was to let people know these trails are in their backyard," she said. "I think people are just starting to find out."
Euchner, who helped clear the pathways earlier this spring, said she's looking for volunteers to do some more bushwhacking and trailblazing. She said they need some younger blood to do heavy rock lifting, too.
"We've got jobs for everybody, from pushing boulders to standing back and telling bad jokes," Ellis said at the picnic. "What we're doing today is just kind of getting everyone together, showing them the trails and saying 'thanks' for the work they did last spring. It's all about these folks."
Gary Borax, founder of the Dove Mountain Hiking Club, said representatives from the town and possibly Cottonwood Properties will be attending the Dove Mountain Civic Group's "Second Annual Forum on Hiking and Biking in Dove Mountain" Nov. 14. It was at the first annual meeting last year that the hiking club was born and, this year, Borax hopes to create an organized biking club.
"Anytime I see someone biking in Dove Mountain, I stop them to see if they're interested," he said. "We need somebody with organizational skills to get the ball rolling."
For more information about the trail system or to volunteer, call 382-1950.