Michelle Hawk is a trail runner, nature lover, and neighbor of Tucson Mountain Park. Contact her at Savingcritters@gmail.com

Michelle Hawk

I am a trail runner, and I feel fortunate to live just steps away from the many trails within Tucson Mountain Park. I love running in the park; the majestic saguaros, abundant wildlife and rugged terrain of this 21,000-acre Sonoran Desert gem continually take my breath away.

The awe inspiring beauty of this park makes it a popular place for both visitors and locals alike.

Unfortunately, over the years, the park has seen a proliferation of “social” or wildcat trails. The original trails, dating back to years before the park was founded in 1929, were old roads and trails that originally served the needs of ranchers, miners and hunters. They have grown as hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians have created their own routes.

These trails were not part of any planning process. Most have serious issues with erosion: sustainability clearly was not a consideration. As the erosion channels became difficult to negotiate, trail users have developed alternative routes. These parallel routes create more erosion and wider swaths of barren desert landscape. In places, you can find anywhere from a few to more than a half dozen trails within the space of a couple hundred feet.

Because most of these trails came about through repeated foot and bicycle traffic, ease of construction or travel was the primary route-determining factor. Aesthetics, sustainability, protection of cultural resources and wildlife habitat were unfortunately not considered.

As they are now, these trails are harmful to wildlife habitat, continue to create new erosion channels and are threatening significant cultural and historic sites. Unless something is done, this beautiful park is at risk of continued degradation, making it less hospitable to wildlife and diminishing its appeal to those who may visit.

The good news is that something is being done. The trails program at Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation, under the watchful eyes of experienced staff, has been slowly and carefully replacing these trails with sustainable routes that provide a higher level of aesthetics while protecting the integrity and precious resources of the park. A win-win solution.

Undoing the effects of a century of unplanned and illegal trail building in the park is a long, slow process, but the results of this process can already been seen in the recently built trails and areas of restoration near the Richard E. Genser and Sarasota Trailheads. The mountain bike community, fellow trail users and neighbors have all stepped up, providing countless hours of volunteer labor to build new trails while rehabilitating the old social trails. The results have been gratifying to all of us who love this park and want it to be a pristine experience for future generations. The new trails have weathered severe monsoons with minimal damage and the views they provide are spectacular. At the same time they provide areas that are (or should be) free of human activity, giving wildlife a place to live undisturbed.

Not everyone is happy with the changes. A few people, who apparently choose to ignore the realities of the status quo, are attempting to stop the efforts being made to protect and preserve the park, not only for visitors, but also the wildlife that calls the park home. I encourage all residents and visitors who value Tucson Mountain Park to support the efforts being made by the county to ensure that the park continues to be protected from the destructive forces that must be held in check if we want to maintain its beauty and integrity. Let your voice be heard. Hope to see you out on the trails!

Michelle Hawk is a trail runner, nature lover, and neighbor of Tucson Mountain Park. Contact her at Savingcritters@gmail.com