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Arizona Mountain Biking Trails – Grading the Governments

Phoenix Mountains Preserve - Piestewa Entrance...

The city of Phoenix is pretty solid when it comes to maintaining its mountain biking trails. (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

Awhile back, I graded a bunch of my local Arizona mountain biking trails. Now I want to turn the focus to the local governments that plan, build and maintain trails in the metro Phoenix area. So I guess I’m not just grading cities – the Maricopa County government is also responsible for a good chunk of trail, along with the State Land Department.

Now that we’ve agreed to put semantics aside, let’s fill out the report cards.

Arizona (state government) – C
The State Land Department is responsible for a good hunk of singletrack in North Scottsdale. These mountain biking trails, known as the Pima & Dynamite trails, are the work of a few generations of off-road motorcyclists. Call that a blessing and a curse: The trails wouldn’t be there otherwise, but folks who are heavy on the throttle make a mess.

And the state doesn’t do much to help. State workers signed many of the routes, which is nice. But the trailhead box that says “Maps – Please Take One” is often empty. Many of the trails could use maintenance. Technically, you need a permit to use the trails … and state officials make it hard as possible to get a permit. It’s 2013, yet you can’t get a permit online.

Arizona mountain biking - pima and dynamite

Notice the deep, sandy scree and the bike it caught? Bad trail building.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park – D
There are lots of mountain biking trails in this 19,000-acre park, both in the Competitive Loop area and the rest of the park. Call it just short of 50 miles total … none of which mountain bikers love. It’s hard to believe the same designer responsible for the Comp Track at McDowell Mountain Regional Park is responsible for this sandy, flowless mess.

How dire is the situation? A bunch of rogues built Fantasy Island North Singletrack, their own bike trails southwest of the park. And did a far better job than their government-sanctioned brethren.

Goodyear – C
Goodyear has no mountain biking trails of its very own. Maricopa County manages the Estrella trails, and the Fantasy Island North Singletrack network is on private land, where volunteers plan, build, maintain and manage. If the Goodyear city government had a lick of sense, it would offer a fair market price for the FINS land: If it ever becomes more profitable for the developer to sell the land, it’s gone – guaranteed. Goodyear could be heroes for outdoor lovers of several stripes if it ponied up.

On the plus side, the West Valley Trail Alliance posted on its Facebook page that Goodyear has in its hands a proposal for a bike park; the plan includes dual slalom, skills and pump track areas along with a little something for the kiddies. Watch Goodyear take a giant leap forward in grade if it okays the project.

arizona mountain biking fantasy island north fins

The city of Goodyear didn’t build FINS – but they should tap the experts who did.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park – A
A pump track, a competitive track, singletrack trails for all skill levels – there’s not much missing from this gem of a county park. A few years ago, there were whispers about a flow trail. Nothing has come of it yet. But be patient. This is the park that gave Arizona its first pump track on public land and the first land manager-sanctioned night rides. The staff also adds new amenities often, from bathrooms to new trails.

The 15-mile Pemberton and the 9-mile Long Loop are the park’s biggest slabs of trail. But there are connectors galore, and ample opportunity for fun. And there’s no local mountain bike venue that hosts more race events. There’s a good reason for that. This is desert-flavored Arizona mountain biking in all its variety.

Phoenix – B
South Mountain Park and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve are both in city jurisdiction. That means Phoenix can claim the National Trail, Mormon Trail, Desert Classic Trail and Trail 100. Oh, and the center-of-the-city mountain bike oasis of Papago Park where so many local riders got their start. Not too shabby, Phoenix! The city has also added some new tails on the west side of South Mountain in recent years.

McDowell Mountain Arizona mountain biking

The newly rerouted bit of the Pemberton Trail has some nice new rock scenery.

But, it lags on some of the newer features more progressive organizations embrace. Like a pump track – ample room for one at Papago or South Mountain, but I guess there’s too little funds or initiative.

Scottsdale – D
This is a city that just doesn’t know how to build a mountain biking trail. Every trail it builds is fine for hiking. But its planners can’t seem to build a cool trail system that will make the city a destination for mountain bikers. Case in point? The new trails that snake away from the soon-to-be-opened Brown’s Ranch Trailhead. Too wide, too slick on the surface, no berms, terrible in the corners.

The slightly older trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve also thrill few mountain bikers. They’re OK just for being there. But riders from other parts of the Valley don’t make a point to visit.

Tempe – D
There are not many trails in Tempe’s jurisdiction, just the southern parts of Papago Park. It’s almost a good thing it doesn’t have more: Its idea of trail improvements include widening trails and lining them with rugby ball-sized rocks (which never stay put, by the way).

Tempe park crews also made a hash of putting in a pedestrian walkway, which screwed up the routing for the 12 Hours in the Papago race … a very cool and unusual epic mountain bike race square in the middle of a major city. It could also find space for a pump track if it had the wherewithal. And only the outcry of local mountain bikers saved an ad hoc dirt jump area from getting flattened.

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