Trails that access the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, one of Arizona’s most biologically unique areas, have gotten a major makeover! These well-loved trails in the mountains north of Phoenix have been in need of some TLC as they are experiencing exceptionally high rates of erosion, due to the Juniper Fire that burned in 2016. Since the fire, runoff from rain and snowmelt has increased, and as it runs downhill it is taking the trail tread along with it.

During a rain event, water runs down the slope of a hillside in what is called sheet flow. As sheet flows cross trail systems, the water concentrates and can become a stream that flows down the trail, cutting channels and eroding away the tread of the trail. In the aftermath of fire, that erosion process intensifies. This makes trails more dangerous, difficult to use, and dumps tons of sediment into nearby rivers and reservoirs, and this is just what has been happening in the Sierra Anchas within the Salt River and Roosevelt Lake systems.

Enter the Water Bar: Water bars are often stacked rocks, or piled dirt that lay just offset or perpendicular to the trail direction to allow for easy diversion of water off the trail.

The Forest Service and conservation groups have been using these for decades, and they still prove to be simple solution in erosion control.

Over the last year, youth crews have done some great work in the Wilderness area installing these structures to help keep the Sierra Ancha trail system in tip-top shape. The McFadden Horse Trail (No. 146) alone has over a dozen water bars, among other erosion control structures, allowing hikers to trek to the top of the peak with greater ease for great Wilderness and wildlife views, creating a more sustainable trail system within the watershed.

In the future, the NFF will take on similar trail restoration work in the Flagstaff area as well as continue to keep our trails beautiful across the Salt and Verde River watersheds so we can all continue to use them for years to come.

National Forest Foundation