Written by Jonathan Patt, Field Operations Manager.

Wild Arizona’s Wild Stew Field Crew returned to Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains and continued work on the Old Baldy Trail that we started in early March. Between warmer weather bringing more wildlife into the area and Easter weekend causing the highest visitation we’ve seen yet, it made for a memorable hitch!

We focused our time this hitch on finishing off a series of check steps we had started on previously, widening and stabilizing some badly eroded tread, and replacing a collapsing retaining wall made of old water pipe and T-posts with a new rock retaining wall. We also hosted a volunteer event with participants assisting in drainage improvements on the trail. To date, we’ve built 60 check steps and 32 drains on this trail.

Before/after of rock retaining wall replacing an old failing wall. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

Wildlife sightings were significantly increased this week, with at least one Elegant Trogon making an appearance (or being heard calling nearby) each day, and a variety of other birds—painted redstarts, bridled titmice, white breasted nuthatches, and more—all around us while we worked! We were also visited on several different days by a young buck on the trail that could often be seen foraging nearby.

We were visited during this hitch by two special guests: Eric Ruljancich of Outslope Trail Solutions and a consultant for us on this project, and Brian Stultz, Wild Arizona’s Deputy Director and Stewardship Director. Eric came out to work with us for a day and give feedback and skills training for the crew, and Brian hiked up to visit with the crew on several days while he was in the area.

Before/after of newly stabilized and widened section of formerly eroding and slipping tread. Photos by Nizhoni Baldwin.

Due to this hitch crossing Easter weekend, Friday and Saturday were some of the busiest days we’ve ever encountered on the trail, and the number of hikers made for a lot of interruptions at times as we were working, which sometimes proved quite challenging. Nevertheless, we were able to still get a lot of fine work done and had some nice encounters with members of the public. Easter Sunday itself, despite being so busy down low that the canyon was expected to close to additional visitors by early morning, may have been the most quiet day on the trail since we’ve started working here!

Before/after of a series of steps. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

We’re saying goodbye after this hitch to three of our crew members—Lexi, Joe and Elly—who are moving on to summer jobs with the Forest Service and Park Service across the western U.S. It’s been great working with the three of you and we wish you all the best!

This weekend, April 23, Wild Arizona along with other project partners will be taking part in the public launch event of the Highline Trail Restoration Initiative in Pine, AZ. You’re invited to come check it out and say hello to the crew!