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Arizona Trail, a 'lifeline' for many, under threat by wildfires

Alex Gonzalez

(Arizona News Connection) The Arizona Trail stretches 800 miles across Arizona, from Mexico to Utah. The trek is considered by many a "lifeline," under threat with fire season fast approaching. 

Matthew Nelson, Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association, said the trail helps sustain communities such as Superior and Miami, Arizona, which benefit from eco and outdoor adventure tourism. Nelson said every year these towns fear the potential impacts wildfire season could bring, and added says his group is thankful that Governor Katie Hobbs is committed to addressing the impacts of the climate crisis in the state by tapping into available funding sources.

"We know that fires are going to happen; that is kind of a given," he said. "I think forests have been mismanaged now for almost 100 years, and we are really seeing the impacts of fire suppression on forests and on communities themselves. So with that in mind, I think we need to be putting a lot of energy into forest health projects."

Nelson added his group is also excited that the state now has an  Office of Resiliency and said they are feeling "encouraged" that state resources will be invested to ensure that Arizona's future remains promising, but is calling for federal investment to help with wildfire mitigation efforts.

Nelson added that total losses from wildfires in the state can reach hundreds of millions of dollars each year. His group and communities are calling for more funding to secure the Arizona Trail's protection and conservation. He says outdoor recreation in the state contributes more than $21-billion dollars to Arizona's economy annually, and he added the Arizona Trail plays a small part in that overall contribution, but nonetheless it should not be overlooked.

"When we are dedicating resources or having conversations with decision makers about what resources should be protected, yes, it is homes and it is communities, but it's also these natural resources that really infuse these communities with interesting people and visitors and money as well," he said. 

Nelson explained trails can act as fire breaks, and it is something the town of Pine has implemented. Trails such as the Arizona Trail "have a variety of different applications," and said more importance should be placed on them.