Ann Brown

Ann Brown

The feud between hikers and horses over a popular northwest-side trail can be, and should be, resolved amicably and quickly before more damage is done.

Last month, the Star’s Doug Kreutz reported that hikers want to stop commercial horseback trail rides from the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort along the Linda Vista Trail in Oro Valley.

The bipedal users say the horses are damaging and defiling the popular recreation spot. Hikers are speaking up now because the resort’s use permit for the guided rides along the Coronado National Forest trail comes up for review this month.

Several letters to the editor responded that horses on the trail were part of the area’s Western heritage and they need to be allowed on trails to give locals and visitors a taste of Tucson’s past.

They’re both right.

The Linda Vista Trail is jaw-dropping gorgeous, it’s not too long or rigorous and it’s close to the metro area. It’s perfect for almost-urban hiking, as well as trail running, photography, painting or just absorbing the view.

Those qualities also make the trail perfect for the nearby El Conquistador, which wants to give its guests a Western equestrian experience.

From a hiker’s perspective, the horses are a hassle. Stepping off the trail and standing in the brush while a dozen or so horses mosey by is a prickly inconvenience.

On a recent hike, I found the trail quite degraded by too many hooves. It’s become loose, sandy and unstable in many spots and is hazardous.

And the many piles of horse manure are obnoxious.

However, this is the West. And Tucson is an equestrian town.

Horses can mix with hikers — with some accommodation and mitigation.

“Horseback riding is an acceptable activity on national forest land,” Heidi Schewel, spokeswoman for the Coronado Forest, told Kreutz.

I agree. The land belongs to all of us and it must be maintained so that all — horses or humans — can enjoy and fully enjoy and experience the land.

The Conquistador permit allows for a maximum group size of 15 riders, including one guide per six riders, Kreutz reported. Rides can be conducted any day of the week. The number of guided rides and horses on the trail varies from day to day, depending on customer demand.

Ghee Alexander, general manager of El Conquistador, told Kreutz that the guides leading the rides “want to make sure (the trail) looks good for anybody who visits the area. From a cleanup standpoint, they do quite a lot of cleanup.”

Likewise, Schewel said the permittee’s responsibilities include “hiring a trail crew for post-permit mitigation and ongoing maintenance to our trail standards .” Forest officials plan to evaluate the condition of the trail before deciding on the permit.

The resort must live up to, if not exceed, the obligations of its permit.

Hikers and walkers with dogs, which are not allowed in Linda Vista Trail, are required to pick up after Fido and tote the poop bag out of other trail and forest areas.

Horse droppings should not be allowed to remain on the trail for days.

That “quite a lot of cleanup” Alexander spoke of should be done immediately after each trail ride or at least every day.

The horses could also wear collection bags to catch droppings. Not authentically Western, but possibly practical.

The trail once allowed hikers to embrace the view, but the current conditions required us to watch the ground on our hike. El Conquistador must restore and keep the trail at peak condition.

The forest could also consider making part of the trail horse-free and limiting the number of horses allowed on the trail .

One letter writer complained about the litter left by hikers as degrading the trail.

Point taken. All users must also be good stewards of the trail and take out what they bring in: water bottles, food scraps, wrappers.

Hikers and horses can harmoniously meander the Linda Vista Trail — with extra effort on the part of all users.

Ann Brown is night and events editor at the Star. Contact her at abrown@tucson.com or on Twitter: @AnnattheStar