A shortage of funds had stalled plans to close a scenic road at Saguaro National Park West and convert it to a trail, but now natural forces have stepped in to revive the plans.

The route in question - a 2.5-mile segment of the unpaved Golden Gate Road - was damaged so severely by a recent monsoon storm that it had to be closed.

When it is reopened - possibly within the next four weeks - it will be as a road for high-clearance vehicles. It previously was accessible to passenger cars.

"We see this development as a phase-in stage" - a first step toward converting the road segment to a multiple-use trail, said Darla Sidles, superintendent of Saguaro Park.

The trail would be open to hikers, equestrians and cyclists but closed to vehicles.

"The storm did so much damage that it will be prohibitive for us to restore the road to its original condition," Sidles said, noting that extensive repairs would be expensive and cause adverse ecological effects.

That's why plans now call for repairing the road only to the point where it's suitable for high-clearance vehicles, she said.


Park officials said in March 2010 that they planned to close the road segment by late 2011.

Work subsequently was to begin on revegetating the segment - extending from Picture Rocks Road to the Sendero Esperanza Trailhead - and converting it to a multiple-use trail.

Funding shortfalls kept the project from getting under way, Sidles said.

Now, with the storm damage and plans for only limited repairs to the road, officials once again are looking toward an eventual conversion to a trail.

Funding for the project and work schedules still remain major question marks.

"Eventually we need to get the appropriate funding to revegetate the road and create a trailhead parking area," Sidles said. "We have to submit a funding package this winter. In the best-case scenario, work would start in about two years, but that's probably not realistic."

It's increasingly difficult to get funding for large projects such as this one, which could cost $1 million or more, said Sidles and Brad Shattuck, chief of maintenance at the park.

Shattuck emphasized that the funding uncertainties are likely to make the project a long-term affair.

"It could be up to a decade before it's completed," he said. "Or it could be even longer than that depending on funding."

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz