Fine-tuning work on a newly constructed trail reroute on the South Fork Trail. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

Written by Lexi Miller, Wild Stew Field Crew Member.

This hitch our crew returned to the lovely South Fork Trail in the Chiricahua Wilderness to finish up our work on our trail reroutes and to add some finishing touches to the existing trail. With a fuller crew after the addition of a new member, Joe, and the return of the lovely Taylour, we were able to complete the reroutes below the junction with the Burnt Stump Trail and spend our time focusing on widening the trail and adding more sustainable features. 

The week started out cold and rainy but beautiful as ever with the last of the autumn leaves falling in the canyon. After setting up camp and beginning trail work on Wednesday, the crew awoke to a rainy Thanksgiving morning that eventually turned into snow. Though it was cold at times, the sight of snow 30 miles from the Mexican border on Thanksgiving day brightened the crews’ spirits and all enjoyed a nice holiday full of trail work, tiny dances to keep warm, and shared backcountry meals. Overall it made for a very memorable and enjoyable holiday, and made the sun feel even more special when we finally did see it! 

Friday the crew completed the proposed reroutes of trail up to the end of the pre-brushed section, officially opening the first six miles of the South Fork Trail. Our spirits were not only brightened by the excitement of completing this phase of an ongoing project, but also by a visit from the wonderful Dirk Sigler. Not only did Dirk bring his amazing, home grown, fresh romaine lettuce, but also Thanksgiving treats from the community, including a pecan pie, cake, turkey sandwiches, bread knots, and chips. To say we were overjoyed is an understatement!

After our post-Thanksgiving feast, we were joined by some wonderful volunteers from the Portal community who began work on brushing the trail above the finished reroutes. We are extremely thankful for their help and are excited to see more work being done to make way for future projects! After a couple days of working hard on tackling the thick brush blocking the trail, the volunteers left camp and the crew was left with a few days of finishing projects before the hitch was completed.  Our crew focused on widening tread, creating a more gradual and sustainable backslope, removing large rocks from the trail, and creating ramps and/or steps through rutted sections of trail. There was plenty of large rock removal, rock crushing, and rock trundling to go around for all! These smaller, more focused projects are essential to help keep water off the trail and people on, thus creating a more sustainable trail that will hopefully need less maintenance in the future. Additionally, it allows for hikers to enjoy the beauty of the forested canyon without staring at their feet, worried about tripping over rocks!

Between late night campfires with good conversation, making new friends, sharing mystery gummy candies, learning to identify bird calls from the magnificent Taylour (who heard an Elf Owl call echoing down the canyon) and plenty of early 2000s jams, the crew had a wonderful time once again in the South Fork Canyon. After eight lovely days, the crew packed up and headed out for lunch at the iconic Portal Cafe, where we were treated by a local member of the community. Once again we were shown that what makes this project so special is not only the beauty of the Chiricahua Wilderness but also the love, effort, and support from the our partners and the community who have made it all possible (and enjoyable).