by Blake Herzog
Pinal County has unveiled a new GIS-based virtual map of its trail system that incorporates detailed information about stops along its recreational paths, as well as its newly designated birding trail.
Users can find it at www.pinalcountyaz.gov/OpenSpaceTrails/Pages/Home.aspx, and the site is mobile-friendly.
Both the birding and hiking trails are mostly in the eastern third of the County drawing users to the vistas of the Superstition Mountains in the north and along the Copper Corridor’s landscape between Superior and Oracle on the Arizona Trail.
The County’s Open Space and Trails Director Kent Taylor said he began to consider revamping the county’s trails page more than a year ago, since “the maps were static and the photos were less than up-to-date.”
The ball didn’t get rolling, though, until the GIS and IT departments approached him about bringing it to life.
“They’re really the ones all the credit should go to,” he said. “They reached out to me, and said ‘Hey, we’re doing web development that’s more in a GIS model, which fits better to outdoor trail-oriented activities.’”
Work on it began toward the end of last summer and the new product debuted at the beginning of March, just before COVID-19-mandated social distancing requirements closed off most other entertainment and recreation options.
Taylor doesn’t know whether views of the new website have been higher than projected as a result, but all other indications are that use of outdoor open spaces are surging in the County, like almost everywhere else.
“We saw an explosion of use in the outdoor trail and recreationist community,” he said. While every part of the County’s trail system has seen increased numbers, most of it is too remote to get overrun as many urban spaces have.
The new map only shows the approximately 60 miles of Pinal County-owned or managed trails, including short segments along the CAP Canal near Picacho Peak and at West Pinal Park, near the junction of state Route 84 with Interstate 8.
But its trails are concentrated in the east county and so is the new Pinal County Birding Trail, which follows the Gila and Lower San Pedro rivers. The San Pedro between Winkelman and San Manuel is recognized as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society, with habitat supporting wild turkeys, hawks, owls, roadrunners and many more species.
Though many of the highlighted birding locations are on or near the Arizona Trail, “a birding trail is a bit different than a recreational trail,” Taylor said. “A birding trail is a collection of sites (over a long distance) that offer folks an opportunity to view different species of birds. It is a great passive recreation and family activity.”
Birding can also be an economic driver by bringing tourists to stay in rural areas they may not frequent otherwise, he said.
“Pinal County viewed the development of the birding trail as a way to showcase a wonderful natural resource in the County while promoting responsible outdoor recreation and economic development opportunities,” he said.
As of now there are no signs marking the stops along the birding trail; they will come after the launch of the Arizona Birding Trail it is a part of, said Charles Hofer, urban wildlife planner for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. He said he hopes that will happen next year.
Taylor said he and his counterparts across the state not only are busy taking care of their trails and other outdoor spaces in light of more users and new sanitation requirements, but looking ahead at how to make sure users keep coming back after other venues open up.
He said they’re asking, “How do we keep their experience positive, and how do we keep them coming back when things return to something closer to normal?”
He added, “There’s an education process, but I think most of these people are going to find out hiking is pretty fun; we can take the whole family, we can do it fairly inexpensively as long you have the right information to do it safely.”