The “spider trails” in Beverly Canyon probably started innocently enough, with someone taking a short cut.
Those steps were followed by hundreds of others until the desert was scarred and a confusing maze of trails was left behind.
After a year’s worth of community meetings and planning, intrepid work crews will brave the searing Arizona summer heat this week and start closing, repairing and re-vegetating the spider trails that branch off from the Beverly Canyon Trail, which connects with other trails deeper inside the park.
The work marks the start of a trail-restoration plan that will take anywhere from two to five years in popular South Mountain Park. The process will be repeated over and over again with the restoration work starting at the busy east end of the sprawling park and heading to the less developed west end.
Beverly Canyon is typically accessed from a small trail head at Baseline Road and 46th Street.
It is on the north side of South Mountain, while popular Pima Canyon is on east end of the park near the Arizona Grand Resort and Ahwatukee.
Crews “rough up an area, so it does not look like a trail, and then re-vegetate,’’ said Mike Francis, parks supervisor.
He said the initial work in Beverly Canyon will take four to six months as Phoenix Parks puts the long-planned South Mountain Park Trails Master Plan into motion for the first time.
“The idea is to start in the east, the most heavily-used part, and work to the west,’’ Francis said. “We are trying to improve what we have and to introduce some new plans along the way.’’
No designated trails, those recognized by Phoenix Parks, will be closed during the trail work, but the undesignated spider trails gradually will be closed and covered with new vegetated.
The ambitious master plan calls for improving the 51 miles of designated trails, adding another 65 miles of undesignated trails to the trail system, and restoring 80 miles of spider trails to their natural state.
The new directional signs are the last step, after the trails have been improved and restored, Francis said.
“The trails master plan will touch the entire trail system in the park, from Pima Canyon all the way over to 51st Ave. The plan will take several years to implement,’’ Francis wrote in his email.
The trail work was always planned in conjunction with a second project, some long-neglected improvements at the Pima Canyon trail head. The two projects together – the trail head improvements and the trail improvements – represent the biggest overhaul in decades inside the park.
The renovations are expected to cost about $20 million, with $5 million allocated per year from the Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative, a small sales tax approved by Phoenix voters.
The $2–million Pima Canyon trail head project, which includes a re-configured parking lot and new restrooms and ramadas, has been delayed at least a month by the combination of red tape and a substantially re-worked plan after the initial proposal ran into stiff opposition from neighbors.
Neighbors won important concessions from the city. The original plan featured a parking lot that neighbors considered too close to their homes in The Cove development. The city dropped the parking lot, but re-configured parking on the original footprint to accommodate more vehicles.
Pima Canyon is South Mountain Park’s most popular trail head because of its convenient location to Ahwatukee and the nearby resort.
The improvements increase the number of spaces to 213 from 169, even after the compromise with neighbors. The trail head is often jammed in the winter, with cars parks along an access road that passes the resort’s golf course.
Phoenix also decided to use ground-level, solar powered lighting to reduce light pollution, and to avoid damaging a fragile saguaro that is located near the neighborhood.
Francis said a timeline for construction at the Pima Canyon trail head has not been determined, but he has been notified that the building permits required to start the work may be issued sometime in mid-July. The trail head will be closed to vehicles during the construction project.
Francis said he will notify neighbors by email when the timeline is firmed up, but that the public comment period is over and no additional meetings are planned.
Despite the construction delay, Phoenix Parks hopes to re-open the trail head sometime this fall, the peak period for hiking and mountain biking.