Friends of Northern Arizona Forests (FoNAF) maintains an active awareness and involvement in hiker safety and trail conditions around Flagstaff. Although not directly involved with trail building, FoNAF supports the Forest Service in many ways to assure the safety and integrity of the many miles of hiking trails across the Coconino National Forest and most particularly in the Flagstaff Ranger District.
Below are several awareness programs FoNAF supports and encourages volunteer involvement.
Background and Overview
Since the US Forest Service Flagstaff District began the preventive search and rescue program on the Kachina peaks and Humphrey's Trail in 2015, FoNAF has been very involved. It was recognized by the Forest Service that Humphreys Peak, the tallest point in Arizona at 12,633’, was a strong attraction for as many as 35,000 local, regional, national and international visitors. Challenging weather, high mountain oxygen issues, and sometimes unprepared visitors, the mountain presented a risk to many.
Over the years the focus has been on Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR) efforts to screen “hikers” going up the mountains, mitigating personal injury disasters for them requiring complex and expensive rescue efforts. A win-win for both the hikers and the rescue agencies. Our FoNAF volunteers are an integral part of this effort with the Forest Service to promote hiker safety on the trail to our highest peak in Arizona.
“Trail Ambassador” Program Design and Benefits
Forest Service managers recognized the opportunity to provide visitors with important information about the Coconino Forest and the Kachina Peaks Wilderness through in person contact and information signage. The concept of information sharing and safety awareness support continues through volunteers and leaders from FoNAF in concert with the USFS staff.
Through many FoNAF volunteers over the years and now the leadership of our board members Bill Waters and Curt Knight the program has evolved and now is named “Trail Ambassadors.” Trail Ambassadors are divided into two specialty categories. “Information Specialists” and “Trail Preventative Search & Rescue.”
· Information Specialists staff the trailhead booth to provide information of the Kachina Peaks and the area trails as well as assessing the readiness and capability of the hikers. If there is doubt that the visitor/hiker is prepared for the 5-6 hour hike up to Humphreys peak, the specialists provide information making them aware of the effort and supplies/equipment required for a successful, safe hike.
· Trail PSAR’s hike the three Kachina Peak trails carrying extra water, medical supplies, snacks and a smile to assist on-trail visitors. They are not EMT’s or medical specialists, but are able to provide assistance and information. Engaging our visitors on the trails reduces the need for the Coconino County Sheriff’s SAR to be called out. Radio communication between the trail head and the PSAR rovers provides the ability to be aware of possibly unprepared hikers and to report and coordinate actions.
Our volunteers have learned a great deal and have an impressive amount of information that allows them to answer questions ranging from very technical to very simple.
What Volunteers Can Expect
The Trail Ambassador’s volunteer during the season (May to October) on the high-volume days of Saturday and Sunday and on the extra day provided by long weekend holidays. They are on “duty” at the trailhead or on the trail from 8am to 3pm. History has shown that the “peakers” who arrive very early in the morning are more experienced, knowledgeable and prepared than those that arrive in the late morning and afternoon. For this reason Trail Ambassadors cover those times when hiker traffic increases midmorning and early afternoon. Weather conditions are always an issue on the Kachina Peaks Wilderness and the volunteers keep track of adverse weather and retreat to safety long before it becomes dangerous.
The Trail Ambassador program has been an outgrowth of FoNAF’s mission. Once the USFS identified the need for hiker assistance at the trail head it became clear FoNAF could play a key role. Trail Ambassadors will now provide good and accurate information about the Coconino National Forest as does the Trail Ambassador’s ability to reach 35,000 visitors.
Every volunteer comes away from their time on the mountain with a new respect for Mother Nature, increased knowledge of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, the flora and fauna, changing weather, history and delights of the San Francisco Peaks and Kachina Wilderness. And they also come away with the satisfaction of helping people from all over the world safely enjoy our unique wilderness gift.
Becoming a Trail Ambassador is Easy
If you have an interest in volunteering for the Trail Ambassadors, either as an Information Specialist or a Trail PSAR Specialist or if you know people that would be interested in the program, please contact FONAF member Bill Waters, 901-846-9762 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Matt Sommer, USFS Flagstaff Ranger District Volunteer Coordinator 928-606-3460, email@example.com.
Trail Conditions and Hazards Monitoring
Fallen tree removal
As FoNAF volunteers encounter trees blocking trails or otherwise become aware of trees creating a potential hazard, arrangements are made with FoNAF’s Aspen Team to remove them.
Maintaining trail signage and notices
Signs indicating such things as wilderness rules and regulations are placed along various trails to inform users. On an as-needed basis FoNAF volunteers assist the Forest Service in erecting and maintaining these notices.