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Phoenix, Arizona

The Black Canyon Trail, located just north of Phoenix, began as a primitive Native American pathway. After a long history, the trail fell into decline and was eventually overrun with motorized trails and littered with bullet-ridden appliances. In 2003, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) commissioned IMBA's Trail Solutions to restore the livelihood of the trail.

IMBA Trail Specialist Joey Klein was brought in to design a trail system that would serve equestrians, hikers and motorized users, and would also bring in a whole new group of users - mountain bikers. The first stakeholder meeting was dominated by agitated motorized users who were afraid of the effect mountain bikers would have on their access. Klein began the meeting by telling stories about off-roading in his '67 Jeepster Commando, and comparing the challenges, desire for distance, and outdoor experience to riding singletrack. "They didn't get mountain biking, so I had to make it relate to them," said Klein.

Once onboard, the motorized users became an invaluable asset to the building process, helping remove truckloads of garbage and even hand-building non-motorized trail. "The understood how we all benefit from trails, even the ones we don't use ourselves," said Klein.

Creating an effective management plan was a complex task given the diversity of users and history of social trails in the area. Signs are only effective when people choose to obey them, therefore IMBA's trail plan made creative use of the terrain to deter unwanted use while encouraging certain uses in areas most appropriate for those activities. Existing doubletrack and old mining roads provided an enjoyable route for motorized users. The motorized corridor acted as a main arterial access to 60 miles of new non-motorized singletrack loops. Since motorized and non-motorized trail would be in close proximity in some places, trail design was essential to keeping the users separated.

The singletrack Klein designed was tight and twisty, and often hand-built along the steep rocky terrain to deter motorized use from section of trail where it was not permitted. Equestrian trailheads were placed near sandy washes that were unappealing to mountain bikers, but provided horses with plenty of water access. Mountain bikers and hikers gravitated towards the singletrack loops. The trail plan satisfied all the users by providing for everyone while minimizing the potential for future conflict.

The Black Canyon Trail runs through a delicate desert environment, offering cliffside views of the Aqua Fria River and passing through immense saguaro forests. IMBA's Trail Solutions team worked closely with BLM biologists to ensure preservation of the unique desert environment. Sensitive barrel cactuses inside the trail corridor were carefully transplanted such that the south-facing side was maintained to prevent possible sunburning and damage to the cactus. Tongs were used to transplant prickly pear out of the trail tread, occasionally using their scary appearance as a deterrent to illicit trails. Recreation has created community support for this natural desert landscape, preserving the 62-mile stretch of land from urban sprawl and securing a wildlife corridor from development.

By implementing a trail plan that provides for all users and effectively minimizes user conflict, the Black Canyon Trail has become home to one of the most diverse and tightly knit trail coalitions in the country. A year after the trail project began, the Black Canyon Trails Coalition formed. Comprised of OHVers, equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers, the coalition has worked together to build over 30 miles of singletrack in just a few years, proving that trails build communities, and communities build trails.

This report was made possible by a grant from Shimano.