A new regional trail rating system could make Phoenix trails safer by matching hikers with the correct trails.

“I think if you ask any of the firefighters here what the biggest rescue is or why we rescue folks, they’d say it’s folks on the mountain that shouldn’t be on the mountain,” Frank Salomon, a deputy chief with the Phoenix Fire Department, said during a press conference on Wednesday. “There are a lot of folks here visiting and they get caught up in this beauty, but they want to go out and experience the beauty and they end up on Cholla or Echo Canyon. It’s a beautiful mountain, but they are there for those who have the experience and the level of expertise… Now we have a system to give these folks… so they can make an intelligent decision.”

Phoenix Parks and Recreation and the Phoenix Fire Department helped develop the new system in cooperation with other area safety agencies from Scottsdale, Tempe, Fountain Hills, Mesa, Apache Junction, Surprise, city of Maricopa, Avondale, Goodyear and Glendale, as well as Maricopa County Parks and Recreation and Arizona State Parks.

The idea is to provide visitors to area parks and preserves with a simple symbol and explanation that informs them how difficult the trail may be, similar to symbols found internationally on ski trails. Length of the trail, elevation, terrain and animal friendliness were all considered when the system was designed. The new system is also built to allow residents to factor in temperature changes. There are six levels of difficulty with the new system and the easiest trails are wheelchair accessible.

“We realize we can’t reach everyone,” said Kathi Reichert with Phoenix Parks and Recreation. “We want to get information to as many people as we can. We want to get it out in stores that sell hiking or biking equipment, concierges, information for those who are just visiting or are avid users. Hopefully, we’ll be able to reach a lot of people.”

The new system will be released in phases. The first phase will be to get the information on the Internet. This step, Reichert said, is the simplest and fastest, and will reach a good portion of those visiting the Phoenix area.

The next step will be to release cards with the information on it to as many locations as possible. Finally, new signs will be posted and new maps created with the symbols clearly posted.

Reichert said Phoenix will be paying for its own new trail signs from trail funds and events the city has held. Phoenix will have the new information available for residents online by March 9.

Those involved in the new project just hope to see a drop in mountain rescues. Salomon said in Phoenix alone there were 180 mountain rescues in 2011.

For now the system will be used for Phoenix metropolitan area trails, but the group hopes it’s a system that can be applied to the entire state in the future.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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