Trail access directly from town more difficult

By Shawn Byrne

Sun Editor

Despite the Town of Wickenburg’s General Plan 2025 published in 2013 and Council’s Strategic Plan 2019 in which both documents declare open space and access to trails from Wickenburg to be critical priorities, two areas on the Hassayampa River have been fenced off and blocked for use by the public.

Those who have fenced off the areas have not done anything illegal, and are well within their rights as the property owners. Proponents of trail use in and around Wickenburg just wish it didn’t have to happen.

“We’re losing access to the beautiful desert,” said Joe Stevens, chair of the Trails Commission. “We’d like to keep the trails open and are trying to see what can be done so that we continue to have trails in the future.”

When published in 2013, General Plan 2025 warned this could happen. “Ensuring long-term public access to important trail connections is considered by many to be the Town’s most critical open space need,” the report states. “If key linkages are not obtained soon, trail system connectivity will be lost.”

Those sentiments were repeated just last year with Council’s Strategic Plan 2019 as an objective to preserve, enhance, and promote the Town’s recreational resources. “Leverage public and private partnerships to develop and manage recreational assets within and around Wickenburg, ensuring that natural resource areas remain open for public use,” the plan states.

Those are sound intentions, but when it comes to private property the Town’s hands are virtually tied, and even more so when it comes to private property outside Town limits.

“The Town can’t do much,” said Councilman Sam Crissman, Council liaison to the Trails Commission. “We have contacted private property owners, but they didn’t agree. I think they’re more concerned about the four-wheelers.”

Some of the solutions offered have been to go to the state Legislature or to seek easements from the property owners. Asking the state government to get involved in private property regulations, and being granted easements by property owners each appear to be longshots.

“Nobody ever wants to give an easement,” Crissman said. “There hasn’t been much progress, and I’m not sure if it will ever be. Government moves at a snail’s pace.”

Trails Commissioner Edward Flammond has suggested the goal of building more trails.

“I go to Prescott and Sedona, and their trails are mapped out and have easy access,” he said at the Trails Commission meeting Jan. 28. “They work to keep them open so that people come to visit and will spend the night and eat out.”

Commissioner Steve Schwarzbach, an attorney, wants private property owners to know there are laws to protect them when their land is used for recreational purposes. Schwarzbach points out Arizona’s Recreational Use Statute (ARS 33-1551) encourages open use of public and private lands. The statute states that owners, lessees, tenants, occupants and managers are protected by law if the area is for the use by recreational and/or educational users.

Schwarzbach said one of the reasons people choose to make Wickenburg their home is because of the beauty of the area, and access to it is slowly disappearing.

“We think it’s extremely important to bring this conflict to the public’s attention and invite discussion on the issue,” he said. “It’s like global warming - there’s a tipping point at which further discussion is irrelevant.”

Another idea that has been discussed is to form a new 501(c)3 or have an existing one gather together to try and resolve the issue. However, Stevens said a leader to take it on hasn’t been found.

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