Grassroots social media informs trail users about conditions

About a week ago, Flagstaff resident Adam Paquette was one of many taking advantage of the warm weather to hit the trails, biking to the Big Bang Trail near Schultz Creek.

“(The trail was) completely clean and in good condition,” said Paquette. “Almost crashed; but that’s more my skill than the trace.

Paquette decided to take the Big Bang ride after seeing its status on the Flagstaff Trail Updates Instagram page, a grassroots, community-driven community effort created to keep the public informed of trail status across Flagstaff.

For almost three years, the site has been frequented by Flagstaff residents and tourists who want to hit the trails – whether in the saddle of a bicycle, horse, dirt bike or just on their own two legs, hiking or running.

“I’m looking forward to them saying the Sunset (trail) is clear,” said Paquette, who uses the source in addition to several other websites and apps to monitor which trails are rideable.

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“I’m keeping an eye on it and it’s useful as a local barometer of clear trails. I also like it as information for (volunteer) trail days,” Paquette said.

That sentiment is exactly the goal of the site, said Trey Kettering, one of about three people managing the account.

Kettering said most of the information they publish about trail conditions comes from the community. He added that he hoped the site could be a resource for all user groups that are recreating around Flagstaff – be they cyclists, equestrians or hikers.

“People are meeting through direct messages on Instagram and people are tagging us in their Instagram Stories for us to repost,” Kettering told the Arizona Daily Sun. “There’s a lot of different people, a lot of people who come from the Valley or Tucson in the summer who know about the account and tag us, and there’s a lot of people living here who consistently tag the account.”

That’s important, Kettering said, not just for the enjoyment of the trails around Flagstaff, but for the trails themselves.

When people recreate on trails that aren’t ready, if those trails are still wet and muddy, it can damage trails for everyone else, Kettering said. And many of these trails are built largely by volunteers.

“We just have to realize that it takes 1,000 hours to build these trails, and the volunteers spend their own weekends there,” Kettering said. “We should really respect this public resource we have and respect other people who use it.”

Kettering is often one of the volunteer trail builders. To that end, Artec Durham, which launched the site in mid-2020, says it is also working with the Coconino National Forest to post information about when and where these volunteer events take place.

But informing the public about trail conditions wasn’t the site’s sole purpose for the man who founded it.

Durham has begun updating as more and more people ventured outside to escape the claustrophobia of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. In between shifts working as a nurse at the height of the pandemic, Durham recreated outside to unwind, and was often asked by other recreationists which trails might be clean and useful.

“I’ve been biking or hiking every day, and people always ask me, ‘What’s dry, what do you ride?’ Because in the middle of winter in Flagstaff, you can often drive on the lower south-facing roads,” Durham said. “So I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to do a trail update on my Instagram account for trail conditions.’

Almost immediately, other members of the community started tagging the account to report the conditions of the trails they were using.

Durham said he hopes the site can continue to be a source of information – not only to keep you up to date on the state of the trails, but also to get more young people involved in managing and supporting outdoor recreation in northern Arizona.

When developing the Flagstaff Trails Initiative, Durham said he was always put off by how few young people were involved in these conversations about the future of recreation around Flagstaff, despite the fact that they made up a huge proportion of those who use the trails.

This project is an attempt to explore how to manage and develop over 400 miles of trails around Flagstaff.

“I went to many of these meetings and was the youngest person at these meetings in my 30s, and there seemed to be a real generational void for people under 50 at many of them. events,” said Durham. “So how do you reach a younger generation of users to get involved with the trails?”

Durham said he thought something that might help generate more engagement was a way to get some of that information across a medium that younger recreationists are already using, and be more proactive in reaching out to the younger generation.

“Potentially the bigger part of it isn’t about which trail to try, that’s what’s important, but also, ‘Hey, it’s dig day, go out and help build trials, there’s a trail survey, fill out the survey,’ and reaching out to a whole bunch of people, who have not previously been involved in trails,” said Durham.

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