Written by John Clark–Kuebler and Mary E. Clark–Kuebler.
The Wild Stew Field Crew started off October with a hitch on the Highline National Recreation Trail near Payson, AZ, and our first work as part of the Highline Trail Restoration Initiative. We worked on preparing crucial reroutes of the section of the Highline that also forms part of the 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail.
We primarily worked on brushing a new corridor through ¾ mile of dense manzanita, scrub oak, and mountain mahogany, ahead of Matt Roberts and his team from Flagline Trails running a mini-excavator to build new, sustainable trail. Some of the Wild Stew crew got the chance to work more closely with the Flagline crew for a day, completing finishing work behind the excavator, but generally we chainsawed until we wanted our arms to fall off, and then we chainsawed some more. Running up to four saws, with our truly exceptional swampers moving brush, we made lots of progress — even brushing over 1.1 miles of established and remaining trail in between and beyond the reroutes we worked on. The last day, spent entirely on existing trail, proved a welcome break from the brutal bushwhacking on uneven ground.
The brushing exhausted us, and we welcomed our breaks, usually celebrating them with some crew naps on chaps. We were not too exhausted to appreciate the scenery, and we greatly enjoyed the views of the Mogollon Rim and Mazatzals we got to see every day. We heard the elk bugling and coyotes howling every night and morning. We even got to see an incredible buck while heading back to camp one afternoon. Other wildlife sightings included a skink and a tarantula!
We finally felt Fall this hitch, with colder mornings, and a rain and hailstorm on Monday afternoon. The storm gave us beautiful views, but also raised the water level of Webber Creek, the one creek we had to cross this trip. Our fearless and skilled crew had no problems crossing the swift, muddy water!
As the days grow shorter and the nights grow chillier, we will continue our hard work on trails throughout Arizona — and will fondly remember how warm we felt wearing chaps on the Highline.