In the June edition of OutdoorsSW magazine there were two articles: Show Low's Buena Vista Trail Loops Not a Secret Anymore and Buena Vista's Secret Trails A Troubled Past and Unclear Future, both of which encourage users to use and perhaps build secret trails, which are also called "social" or "spider" trails. I am writing to provide some clarification and have included input from the US Forest Service.
TRACKS was formed in the late 1980's as a volunteer organization to plan, build and maintain the non-motorized White Mountains Trail System in the US Forest Service Lakeside District of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. TRACKS is the only organization that has a formal volunteer agreement to do so with the Lakeside Ranger District of the US Forest Service. When TRACKS proposes new or modifications to existing non-motorized trails in the National Forests, the USFS conducts an analysis of the proposal that includes a formal survey of the area for sensitive wildlife habitats and for any possible prehistoric or historic archeological sites. After approval of the proposal by the USFS, TRACKS is given permission to modify existing or build new trails.
"Secret,""social," or "spider" trails are ones that users develop without USFS approval, are considered illegal by the USFS, and may result in action by the USFS against those who build those trails because they may destroy sensitive wildlife habitats or cultural resource sites.
USFS viewpoint: Legalities aside, users who create social trails seldom consider wildlife that lives there and could be displaced, the loss of this habitat and its impact to the ecological health of the forest, damage or destruction to irreplaceable cultural resources, the eventual warren of trails that often lead nowhere and contribute to other users getting lost or confused, the cumulative damage, compaction of soil, and the general ugliness this maze has the potential to create. Loved to death, this very illegal endeavor of putting a trail wherever one wants could be the death knell to the beauty and vitality of the forest. PLEASE stop doing it!
TRACKS has proposed to the USFS that the "secret" trails in the Buena Vista area be incorporated into the Buena Vista trail as part of the White Mountains Trail System. This proposal has been supported by Navajo County Board of Supervisors and the City Council of Show Low. It is under consideration by the USFS.
Anyone who would like to propose modifications to or new trails in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests of the USFS Lakeside Ranger District may submit requests, with detailed information about location, a map, and need for the trail, to TRACKS (www.trackswhitemountains.org or TRACKS, 958 S Woodland Road, Lakeside AZ 85929). TRACKS will review the request and may submit a proposal to the USFS.
President of TRACKS