We all know of the disastrous impacts of the Covid 19 Pandemic. To any of our readers who may have been personally impacted by this horrible disease, we at SRRTF send our thoughts and condolences.
While the human toll is foremost on our hearts and minds, there have been other collateral impacts. You may have seen the increase in traffic on our roads and trails as people use the national forest for meeting, recreation and exercise during these challenging times. In particular, forest trails offer a place for health and solace. “The importance of our trails is more obvious to people during this pandemic” stated SRRTF President Kevin Adams, “as is the need to maintain them.”
Local Forest Service staff report that forest use near Sedona fluctuated in response to the pandemic. Initially, trailhead use dropped by more than 20% in March and April as the effects of the pandemic shutdowns spread across the nation. After the initial and dramatic drop, trail use gradually increased as shutdown restrictions lifted, far surpassing 2019 numbers.
Sales of Red Rock passes, an indication of trailhead use and cultural site visits, have been rising since July. Autumn numbers in 2020 are already 20% ahead of 2019. Chris Johansson, Forest Service Recreation Manager, applauds the publics “back to nature” activities, but also wonders “what the overall increase means for future trail maintenance.”
Use at some trail locations, such as the swimming sites along the Bell Trail near Beaver Creek and Oak Creek, show far greater increases, more than tripling over the summer. In fact, on one extremely hot day, more than 1200 people were counted visiting a popular swimming hole on the Bell Trail. Likewise, summer heat caught some people unprepared. Forest Service temporarily closed the Bell Trail after 12 heat related emergency rescues in one day.
Johansson described the evolution of forest management to address the pandemic while trying to maintain forest access. The initial closures of some forest sites, including campgrounds, gave way to limited access with protective measures in place. He said that USFS was finding ways “to allow healthy and safe forest access, as this is so important to so many.”
Dispersed camping in the forest south of Sedona also jumped in popularity. Forest Service Protection Officer Francisca Adrian observed that “every possible dispersed camping spot has been full in the spring and fall”. Observations by the Forest Service indicate that many people are choosing to car camp as a way to quarantine and as a “get away” while other travel options are closed or limited. Adrian added that, “Many were “smoke refugees” from California.”While our trails provide solace for many, the increased use by locals and visitors alike have boosted the need for their maintenance. please consider a donation to the Sedona Red Rock Trail Fund. Your donation will go directly to hire crews and support volunteers who maintain the trails for our future use!