Fifty years ago next month, the National Trails System Act was enacted to help establish and preserve thousands of miles of trails across the United States. To commemorate this special anniversary, the Arizona Trail Association is encouraging hikers, bikers, runners, equestrians and nature enthusiasts of all kinds to attempt something that’s never been done before: complete all 800 miles of the Arizona National Scenic Trail in just one day.
Of course, they don’t have to do it all themselves. "AZT in a Day" participants will work together Saturday, October 6, to complete nearly 100 sections of the trail, which runs from Mexico to Utah and includes eight wilderness areas, four national forests, two national parks, one state park and one national memorial.
Those familiar with the diverse landscapes and terrain of Arizona know that no two sections of the trail are exactly alike. The path paints a full picture of Arizona as it traverses a variety of hiking and tourist destinations, including the Superstition Mountains, the Mogollon Rim, the San Francisco Peaks, the Grand Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs.
Everyone is welcome to participate in AZT in a Day and should complete their portion of the trail however they’d like, Shannon Villegas of the ATA says.
“Some people are going to do an out-and-back on a particular section of the trail and then have a barbecue back at the trailhead; others are going for multiple days and camping,” Villegas says. “Arizona Trail is one of the only national scenic trails that allows all kinds of use, not just hiking. We allow mountain biking, equestrians — anything non-motorized. However you want to enjoy it with your family or your friends, there isn’t any limit. It’s going to be an amazing experience for everyone, whether they spend 15 minutes or several days on the trail.”
Building and maintaining this incredible scenic trail since the 1980s has been no small task, with additions and construction continuing to this day. Right now, the ATA is working on an 18-mile addition to get the trail off rough forest roads in the Happy Jack area south of Flagstaff. “From [the 1980s] until today, the trail has just grown exponentially,” Villegas says. “Now that it’s recognized as a National Scenic Trail, we’re getting a lot more people coming to visit.”
Villegas says this one-day event is also an opportunity to draw awareness to the importance of the nation’s public lands.
“More and more, we have fewer important things to pass on to future generations,” she says. “Decades ago, these places were set aside and deemed as important. As time and technology have progressed, what we value seems to have shifted. The things that are our natural resources and national treasures are right outside our back door, but fewer people from our own country are visiting them. We’re probably just taking these places for granted and not caring for them like we used to. But if we don’t protect these wild places, we won’t have anywhere else to escape to.”
To learn more about AZT in a Day or the Arizona National Scenic Trail, visit www.aztrail.org.
— Emily Balli