National Forest Foundation

Stewardship in the time of COVID – connecting trails, dirt, and responsible recreation in Oak Creek, Arizona

NFF Grant Partners and Projects, Treasured Landscapes


If you are like most folks, you might be a little stir crazy, and ready to get out of your house, your city, and your daily routine during the COVID pandemic. Many recreationists, both returning and brand new, are flocking to our National Forests for a reprieve from the daily monotony, which is of course, amazing, but high visitation has come with consequences.

In Oak Creek Canyon in northern Arizona, the intensity of increasing use has led to unsafe parking along 89A, rogue and unauthorized trails down to the creek which increases erosion and sedimentation and subsequently poses significant water quality concerns.

Recreationists on a weekday in Oak Creek at Slide Rock State Park.

To meet these challenges, NFF has partnered with REI Co-op and REI Foundation, Coconino National Forest, and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to improve trail management and restoration and increase trash pick-up, all with an eye towards reducing sediment and trash deposition into this precious water way.

Meet our team!

Tom Runyon, Coconino NF Hydrologist

Ron Tiller, AZDEQ Senior Scientist

Sasha Stortz, NFF Arizona Field Program Manager

Meet our partners in stewardship!

Conservation Legacy’s Arizona Conservation Corps, a six member tribal team from the Pinetop Lakeside, AZ area, supported by funding Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Three of four crew members from Conservation Legacy’s Ancestral Lands Program, a tribal conservation corps team from the Gallup NM area, supported by funding from REI and the REI Foundation.

These two crews are truly doing some amazing work! In order to ‘harden’ trails, local materials from the area are collected including rock and tree limbs.

Crews collecting tree limbs to harden existing trails and/or to hide rogue or unauthorized trails.

Crews at work hardening trail to improve safety and access (no more scrambling down loose-soil slopes) with an eye to minimize sediment deposition into Oak Creek.

Crews work to stabilize a steep, user-created rogue trail, from Hwy 89A down to the creek. Here crews are hardening its surface and reducing the level of erosion and transport of sediment into the creek.

The culmination of this effort will improve water quality, water sustainability, aquatic and riparian habitat, ensure long term enjoyment and access by visitors, and protect a vital water supply in the Verde River Watershed.

This work was made possible by generous support from REI Co-op and the REI Foundation. Special thank you to photographer Richie Graham for joining us and photographing this important work.

Click here to learn more about Richie and see more of his photography.

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