From 10 miles of USFS approved, designated trails in 1987 to over 200 miles in 2014 and still growing. In the spring of 1987, trail development began in Pinetop-Lakeside’s beautiful Woodland Lake Park.
The USDA US Forest Service, Arizona Game & Fish Department, the White Mountains Horsemen’s Association, and Audubon Society—with funding from the Arizona Game & Fish Heritage Fund—came together and decided upon a strategy to develop urban trails and forest trails. The two efforts began with a major emphasis on developing national forest trails connecting to Pinetop-Lakeside and Show Low.
The ambitiousness of the White Mountain Trail System project drew attention from locals, businesses, and the press. At one point, United States Senator John McCain stopped into a planning meeting for a quick briefing. The word was out. The WMTS was a major project run by folks who knew what they were doing.
While the big mileage was being developed in the national forest, the urban system sparkled with the completion of Hitching Post Loop Trail in Woodland Lake Park (a 1.1 mile paved handicapped trail around the lake), and completion of Turkey Track, Meadowview, Eagle Scout trails, and a walking trail along the creek flowing from the lake. A brand new 80-foot bridge span on the Lake Trail gave a sense of just how comprehensive and thorough our volunteer efforts were becoming. The mileage in the forest seemed to explode as volunteers eagerly stepped forward. Expert guidance from the US Forest Service led not only to professional trail standards, but also to neat trailhead kiosks, large parking areas to accommodate horse trailers and other users, and first-class signage. The first 10 miles has become 200+ miles of a major trail system.
With up to 400 volunteers in 2015—in rural communities no less—a lot of wonderfully talented and generous folks came together to help build the WMTS. They just started and keep appearing. Young and old, strong and fragile, individuals, families, friends, strangers, and groups. They all worked together in what is considered by all a labor born of love.
TRACKS provides the long-term stewardship of the WMTS. This 350-member group works as the head of the project. In 1990, TRACKS was the proud host of the first-ever Arizona State Trails Conference. It was a great success. The White Mountain Trail System was the hit of the conference; attendees were amazed at the scope of the project.
TRACKS started with no funding, but money flows to a good idea. The organization has raised up to $100,000 for trails and financially in the black every year since 1987. Local businesses donated seed money when times were tough. Sales of Fourth of July wind socks gave us a windfall profit, Navajo County gave a $1,000 start-up check to the fledgling project, and one corporate sponsor gave a check for $5,000 (no strings). Individual donations poured in and continue to this day to help cover costs of equipment and supplies, an Arizona Game & Fish Heritage Fund grant supported the financial success of the project, and the town of Pinetop-Lakeside became a focal point of support. In addition to much-needed encouragement—since TRACKS was an ad hoc committee—the town provided staff time, administrative support, office supplies, and access to town fundraisers such as Winterfest and Tastefest. Additionally, they dug deep, even when receipts were down, to provide some operating capital.