Trails on South Mountain are a vital part of what makes living in Ahwatukee Foothills great. But one homeowners association is doing all it can to encourage its residents to use only city trails, even if it means blocking paths that have been around for years.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Laurel Arndt is a regular mountain biker, hiker and runner on South Mountain. She even worked with the city to try and connect the different trails along the mountain.
Arndt said she was pleased when the city finally did put in new trails that connected to Telegraph Pass. It was a nice trail and there was easy access off 5th Avenue.
Unfortunately, the trail off 5th Avenue that residents had been using for years was not an official city trail and the Foothills Club West Homeowners Association began to take notice of people crossing private land to reach the preserve.
The trail on South Mountain, that Arndt says is called the Gila Trail by local riders, is not part of the city's trail system. It begins on the west side of a reservoir owned by Foothills Club West. The reservoir is meant to be a draining place for the mountain. It is not landscaped but does contain some natural desert vegetation. On the east side of the reservoir is 5th Avenue and to the south is a church.
After a few complaints from the church of people parking in their lot to reach the preserve, the HOA decided to take action.
"The HOA did not want anybody crossing HOA property to access the preserve," said Kathi Reichert, deputy director of the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. "I went to a board meeting and talked to the board about some options. I said we could work together and see if we can get people in that neighborhood access to the preserve by crossing HOA property. However, the board at that time did not want to look at any options of giving people access across HOA property."
Instead, they put up signs warning of trespassing. When that didn't work they put sharp rocks on the ridge of the reservoir so bikes could not pass. When people moved the rocks the HOA covered the rocks in cement and placed them with jagged edges up to make crossing difficult. Arndt said people still cross but it's a shame it had to go this far.
"It's the same story in all of Ahwatukee," Arndt said. "We have a lot of houses that back up to trails. We can go in at Pima Canyon, we can go in at different entrances, but there's a lot of space in between and a lot of people in between that don't want to drive a few miles that way when they live right here and could come in right here."
Michael Hinz, a member of the Foothills Club West HOA, said the HOA's position is only to encourage people to use official entrances to the preserve.
"We look at the park as the centerpiece of our community as everyone would," Hinz said. "We think it's everyone's responsibility to try and make sure we preserve the park in the best way possible. The city has provided very well maintained and convenient access to the park at 19th Avenue and Telegraph Pass. We feel the best way to preserve the park is to encourage people to use those access points rather than any other access points over private property."
Arndt says the problem with entering at Telegraph Pass or 19th Avenue is that the trails from those points are very long and difficult. The trail off 5th Avenue is flat and perfect for mountain biking or running.
"The other trail goes over and along the ridge line," Arndt said. "It's a wonderful, long trail but it's really long. For most people, the best part of the trail is right in through this nice long, flat area. People want to be able to just jump in and do a portion of it to give themselves a little variety. Some people just want to run the flat section. To go from telegraph it's a very long hike. For those who are not faint-hearted, it's wonderful. But the average person who is out here is not interested in 10 miles of hiking."
Hinz encouraged any residents with a better idea to contact the HOA. For those who are not members of the HOA, like Arndt, it may be a little more difficult but they are open to suggestions.
"We're concerned about Club West. We want to make sure that what we do is for Club West and we preserve Club West in the best way we can," Hinz said. "If someone who lives outside Club West wants to contact the HOA they certainly could. There's not much we can do if nobody ever reached out to us."
Reichert says residents can still use those trails but they must access them from designated entrances.
"People can use that trail, but they can use it from the other side," Reichert said. "They could go along the trail and then come back the same way they went in. You can run, hike or even bike along that trail but when you get to the point where it meets HOA property, legally you're not supposed to cross that HOA property. You need to go back the same way you came on to the preserve."
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