Nico checks out an old section of the Highline Trail as it gets renaturalized. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

Written by Jonathan Patt, Wild Arizona’s Field Operations Manager.

This week, Wild Arizona’s Wild Stew Field Crew returned to the Highline Trail north of Payson to continue work on the Highline Trail Restoration Initiative, a multi-partner effort to improve and reroute numerous sections of the 50 mile Highline National Recreation Trail to provide a more enjoyable and sustainable experience.

Before/after of renaturalization work on an old section of the Highline. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

While multiple crews have been and are continuing to work on the construction of the new reroutes, the Wild Stew Field Crew has been renaturalizing the old sections of trail, obscuring them by digging up the compacted soil and transplanting various vegetation into the old trail corridor where it’s visible from the new trail. Out of view, our focus has been on managing erosion and restoring the original slope to restore sheet flow of water in a natural manner rather than continuing to erode the benched and often trenched trail.

To do this, we have been building hundreds of rock structures, called media luna for their half-moon shape, along the old trail. Consisting of larger rocks arranged in an arc to define the overall shape and establish the height that sediment will fill up to, with smaller rocks placed “upstream” to break up and slow the flow of water and cause sediment to fall out of solution and remain in place, these structures are easy and quick to construct and allow natural water flow to help restore the original slope over time. As they fill up, additional structures can be built on top of them if more height is needed. Over the course of the hitch, we built nearly 250 media luna structures across a dozen or more reroutes of varying lengths between the Geronimo Trailhead and where we caught up to the most recent work being completed by the machine operators between Bray Creek and Chase Creek.

Before/after of a renaturalized section of old trail. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

Compared to our previous work here a month earlier, conditions were very dried out and not at all muddy anymore, and correspondingly we encountered many more trail users including dozens of Arizona Trail thru-hikers per day, many of whom expressed their appreciation for the work we and other crews had been doing on the trail and how much they were enjoying this section of the trail. We also had to deal with hot and occasionally windy conditions compared to the cold and snowy weather of the previous month!

Lots of different critters were coming out this time around too, including multiple snakes, horned lizards, dozens of scorpions and centipedes per day, and coyotes making a lot of noise every night at our camp!

We enjoyed our time on the Highline and look forward to returning to it as more work gets completed and the Highline Trail Restoration Initiative continues into its next phase!

Next hitch we are excited to start work on the Apache–Sitgreaves National Forest, where we will be spending much of our summer!