The Highline National Recreation Trail winding through the trees. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

Written by Nizhoni Baldwin, Wild Stew Field Crew Member.

Top 8 movies of all time. That question would rattle in my brain each morning for the next week, as we walked up the reroute of the Highline National Recreation Trail, just outside the quaint community of Whispering Pines. A reel of favorite films played in my head I trudged along the old Highline, pulling my feet out of fresh mud. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was going to be my life for the next few days. 

The old and new Highline, before and after renaturalization efforts. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

Our mission this week was to renaturalize sections of the old Highline trail, which included transplanting grasses, manzanita, and other vegetation, dispersing of rocks and other natural debris, and building of rock dams to stop erosion along the old trail and capture sediment instead. The Highline has been going through extensive construction of new trail along a more sustainable layout as part of the Highline Trail Restoration Initiative in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, National Forest Foundation, and others. Wild Arizona was there to help make the old trail sections disappear with time.

Our first day there, we encountered morning snow. It made for a cold morning, but it didn’t stop us from stabbing at the frozen ground to create foundations for rock dams. Much of the old trail was deeply eroded, so in order to slow down this process, we built a variety of rock structures, including one rock dams/media lunas, and Zuni bowls. The hunt for the best rocks was never-ending. Never-ending. Neverending Story. Would it make top 8? Probably not. Never seen it.

When we weren’t creating rock masterpieces, we were renaturalizing sections of the old trail that could be seen from the new trail. The crew would carefully transplant native grasses and yuccas to discourage users from treading further. Every time a cactus was transplanted, it was accompanied with an “Aww” or “Ooh!” I personally was convinced each plant I placed into the ground had a bond with me like no other. Bond. James Bond. Nope. Doesn’t make Top 8. 

Each day blended in with the previous, but with different surroundings each time. First in the snow, then in the mud, then in the sun, by the creek, away from the creek, in the mud again, by trees… but each day ended the same—surrounded by friends, passing around crew chocolate, asking what your top 8 movies were. Robocop, for sure.

A zuni bowl built to stop headcutting along a trenched section of abandoned trail. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

We’ll be returning to the Highline in a few weeks to continue our efforts further to the west, working out of the Geronimo Trailhead next time. If you’re interested in participating in work here or elsewhere, check out our Volunteer page for upcoming opportunities.

The view from the Highline looking south. Photo by Jonathan Patt.