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Arizona Trail Association is source of pride for the state

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Arizona, a relatively new state, is not known for valuing history. So it is refreshing when an organization takes the time to recognize an accomplishment that is not related to sports or entertainment. In a ceremony that was both jubilant and moving, on Saturday, February 1, 2014, the Arizona Trail Association (ATA) celebrated its 20th anniversary at the South Mountain Park Environmental Center in Phoenix.

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Through networking, videos and speeches, participants got to relive the effort it took to create the 800+ mile trail. The Arizona Trail was the vision of Dale Shewalter, a schoolteacher from Flagstaff, who, in 1985, was bold enough to imagine a non-motorized trail, which would stretch from the Mexican to Utah border. Under his leadership a small band of 11 members formed the Arizona Trail Association in 1994. In addition to the need for a committed visionary, many other lessons could be learned from ATA’s 20-year history.

In an era of Congressional gridlock, it is nostalgic to hear about a time when Senator John McCain led a bipartisan Arizona delegation, which worked together for years on legislation to designate the National Scenic Trail. At the celebration, ATA Executive Director Matthew Nelson read a statement congratulating ATA that Tucson Congressman Ron Barber presented to Congress.

As Legacy Partners, government (e.g., Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management), private industry (e.g., Rosemont, Resolution and Asarco Copper companies, REI, Forever Resorts) and non-profits (e.g., Mountain Bike Association, Arizona Horse Lovers Foundation) put aside any private/public feuds to cooperate on the construction and maintenance of the Trail.

Though it is a national designation, the importance of buy-in from local communities is paramount. In 1999, Patagonia was recognized as the first “gateway” community, a town located in proximity of a section of the trail. By 2005, 25 gateway communities had become involved with the Trail.

Finally, members, volunteers and media are critical to such huge projects. Over 1500 members, thousands of donated hours annually, and a series of excellent print features and publications keep Shewalter’s dream alive physically and in spirit. ATA offers innumerable opportunities to experience the Trail from the Complete Guide to the Arizona National Scenic Trail (which sold 600 copies in two weeks) to Seeds of Stewardship to joining the upcoming Arizona Trail Trek.

ATA receives inquiries and visitation from all over the world. It has a history of which Arizona can and should be proud.