The cat is out of the bag! The Heart and Little Elden Realignment Project is completed!

This was a huge effort with tons of players, and we are proud to announce the completion of one of the best trails projects with which we’ve had the honor of being involved!

Here’s some of the nuts and bolts of how this project evolved.

In 2016, in part because of our persistent prodding on the status of the MEDL Recreation Project, the US Forest Service asked if we would help with the relatively “low hanging fruit” (from an analysis/approval standpoint) of realigning Heart and Little Elden Trails. Since these trails are not in endangered species habitat, the Flagstaff Ranger District was able to utilize a simpler form of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, a Categorical Exclusion.

Flagstaff Biking Organization, the Flagstaff Trail Faeries and USFS staff partnered to put together the new alignment GPS data. A great deal of attention was paid to highlighting the unique and dramatic landscape in the area while also proposing trail that would be sustainable and enjoyable for a diverse array of recreationists.

The Forest Service used our alignments to execute their requisite environmental and archaeological review processes and issued a decision in the summer of 2018. We got right to work hosting volunteer events with the Flagstaff Ranger District Trail Crew, after a period of closure for fire danger, on the construction of Little Elden Trail. The Flagstaff Trail Faeries led the on-the-ground work for this project by pin-flagging tread layout and doing the more technical construction projects. The Arizona Trail Association partnered with us on a National Trails Day event since Little Elden Trail is part of the Flagstaff Bypass route of the Arizona National Scenic Trail. Construction on Little Elden continued throughout the 2018 and 2019 Flagstaff Biking Organization Trail Days events, and was completed by the Flagstaff Trail Faeries this spring. (We were unable to host Trail Days this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Concurrently, we had been awarded a $75,000 grant from the Catena Foundation, to be matched by $14,600 from the Flagstaff Biking Organization Trail Fund to pay American Conservation Experience (ACE) to construct the Heart Trail. Because of the remote access and technical nature of this construction project, it was decided that this trail would require professional crews to execute. ACE began work in spring of 2019, and in spite of the Museum Fire and the COVID-19 pandemic, completed the last of the trail in early August 2020. ACE ended up needing several more weeks than originally expected to finish the trail. The Flagstaff Ranger District stepped up with an additional $10,335.40, and ACE ultimately donated $40,346.25 in their crews’ time to complete the project. We are proud to again have had the opportunity to work with ACE who has been a dedicated partner to Flagstaff’s trails for years!

We want to thank all of our Trail Day sponsors and partners, The Flagstaff Trail Faeries, the Flagstaff Ranger District, the Catena Foundation, American Conservation Experience, the Arizona Trail Association and all of the Trail Days and other volunteers for helping see these two revitalized trails through to completion!

Click here to read ACE’s report on their effort on this project.

(Most photo credits below to Josh Langdon, who also killed it on the Heart Trail with the layout and as the ACE crew leader.)