GREER — The village of Greer was hit hard by the Wallow Fire six years ago.
The inferno roared up to the edges of the community, and some homes and cabins were lost. A number of businesses closed after the fire as tourism declined. People didn’t want to vacation in an area affected by fire. The fire, accompanied by the Great Recession, also forced the sale of many second homes.
But Greer is finding its way back. The burn scar has greened over and the valley’s beauty is undiminished. Visitors are returning — and walking down the main street.
As an unincorporated community, there are no sidewalks in Greer. But summer brings plenty of visitors and pedestrians who walk on the pavement through town, which can present a safety hazard.
There is a walking trail alongside Main Street, but people didn’t use it. Built in 2001-02, the surface had not been maintained in a number of years and had fallen into disrepair. The weedy gravel wasn’t inviting or easy to see and it was impossible to use a stroller or wheelchair on the rough surface.
Members of the Greer Civic Association decided that something should be done.
“It became very apparent that the old trail, you couldn’t use it ... (people) were walking in the street and it’s very dangerous,” said Diane Cowdrey, a member of the subcommittee of the Greer Civic Association (GCA). She said pedestrians have been hit by cars on the village Main Street in the past.
Three years ago, GCA began focusing their fundraising efforts toward an upgrade for the trail. GCA puts on Greer Days, the annual town celebration in June, and it was decided that proceeds from the event would be dedicated to the trail project.
Back in 2014, Cowdrey, along with the other members of the subcommittee — her husband, Frank, and Larry Warren — began exploring what could be done to fix or improve the surface of the village trail and how much it might cost.
“The three of us ... were doing research on materials. We called contractors and we got bids on concrete, asphalt, recycled asphalt, rubber,” Warren said.
“We realized we needed a pathway that could survive the winter, and it has to be hard enough for wheelchairs,” added Cowdrey.
The trio found that most surfaces were too expensive for the length of trail that needed to be reconstructed. The bid for concrete for the first half-mile alone came in at $200,000 — far above the means of the GCA. But Warren, Frank and Diane didn’t give up. Then, the pieces of the project seemed to fall together in the spring of 2016.
The surface they thought would best suit the needs of the trail in Greer was discovered in Scottsdale at the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead of the Scottsdale Preserve. The trail was wheelchair accessible.
“A friend of mine and I were hiking ... we were on this trail and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh! That’s the trail we need,” Diane said.
At the same time that they were looking for the right surface for the trail at the right price, they were also building a relationship with Apache County officials. The trail is located on county right-of-way.
“Barry Weller and (Apache County Engineer) Ferrin Crosby, these two were instrumental. They provided us with a tremendous amount of support,” Frank said.
“We went to the county and we said, ‘Look, we know there’s limited funds, and we want to do the best we can to help pay for this,’” Diane said. Through donations and proceeds from events at Greer Days, they had raised almost $20,000.
The company that had built the trail in Scottsdale was Okanogan Trail Construction Inc. The company is headed by Matt Woodson, and he was the perfect person to bring a better trail to Greer, organizers said.
Woodson’s company has years of experience in designing rugged backcountry trails, as well as urban, multi-use trails, so creating a new path surface for Greer was a walk in the park. Woodson took a personal interest in the project and visited Greer last summer to meet with Crosby.
When the bid for the project came back from Okanogan, the supporters of the trail were thrilled. At a little less than $40,000, the trail was affordable, and the contribution of the Civic Association would make up almost half of the budget. The trail project suddenly hit the express lane.
Last September, Woodson and his crew arrived in Greer. The surface of the old trail was removed and a new surface was installed through the central portion of the village. The new surface is a fine gravel sprayed with a synthetic liquid that hardens enough so that wheels can roll on it.
Visitors and locals have been enjoying the trail ever since.
“Everybody seems to be very, very happy about it,” Diane said.
This year, GCA trail organizers hope to see the next phase of the trail installed through the main business section of Greer, along with signs guiding people to the path. Businesses, organizers say, have been supportive of the project.
The trail will have to cross Main Street a couple of times to remain on county right-of-way. Woodson attended Greer Days earlier this summer and walked the next segment of the trail with GCA members, District 3 Supervisor Doyel Shamley and Crosby.
“This next section is the most critical in terms of safety,” Diane explained.
This section of the trail will be more difficult to construct. On the east side of the street, the old walkway is fenced into a narrow strip along the Little Colorado River.
“It’s a little bit tight in there, but the trail guy thinks he can do it,” Crosby said.
Funding may be tight too. Crosby said he is still reviewing the trail proposal for this year. Both Crosby and Shamley said it is not yet clear if state Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF) can be used for the next segment of the trail, although they were used for the trail last year. And the GCA has not had as much time to raise funds for this segment.
If the pieces of the puzzle come together this year as they did last year, construction on a new segment of the trail will begin this fall. Trail organizers hope to eventually extend the village trail to the Forest Service’s Rolfe Hoyer Campground and the Greer Lakes area to the north, and to the trailhead terminus at the south end of town. When complete, the trail will literally pave a path for visitors to village businesses.
Although safety has been a primary driver of the project, Warren thinks that, in the long term, both the aesthetics and the functionality of the path will benefit Greer.
“If people are looking for a place to invest money, the trail makes Greer more attractive,” he said.