We need your help reopening Apache Trail.

We, the people, have given the state of Arizona the benefit of the doubt, and the Arizona Department of Transportation has let us down. Now, it’s time we take action to protect access on our historic Revised Statute 2477 Highways, including Apache Trail.

A National Treasure

Theodore Roosevelt en route to the dedication ceremony of the Tonto Dam.

State Route 88, better known as the Apache Trail, is an unpaved state highway that travels from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake, winding through the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. Its most known for its sheer drop-offs, tight corners, mysterious history, and the impossible shelf road down Fish Creek Hill. To some, the Apache Trail is a treacherous experience, but to others, it’s a portal that takes you back in time.

The Apache Trail was made possible by the passage of the 1902 Reclamation Act. The Department of Reclamation declared one of their first project, the Tonto Reservoir, and Tonto Dam. The original road was a pack trail developed in the 1860s by ranchers and pioneers Lewis and Pranty. It wasn’t until 1904 that the road was reconstructed along today’s path to accommodate freight to construct the Tonto Dam. The Tonto Freight road, now Apache Trail, was built by over 300 men, including 50 Apache laborers. Over 500 private citizens indebted themselves on behalf of the cities and towns in the region for $300 to secure bonds with local banks to build the road.

The Tonto Freight Road was finished by 1905 for under $90,000, and construction on the Tonto Dam began immediately. In 1911, the Tonto Freight Road and Tonto Dam were completed. At a ceremony at the base of the dam, which he attended himself, the dam and reservoir were dedicated to then-president Theodore Roosevelt. A majority of the 1860s wagon road is now submerged under Canyon Lake but can still be found as the access route to Horse Mesa.

In 1920 the Apache Trail was recognized by Arizona as a state highway and officially labeled Apache Trail in honor of the 50 Apache Laborers who helped build the road. State Route 88 was considered significant to the surrounding counties, cities, and towns. This designation brought many revisions including several pullouts and vista points along the road, guard rails, and other improvements. Later, in 1995 the Apache Trail was designated a National Scenic Byway and was recognized by the US Department of Transportation for its historical, cultural, scenic, and recreation qualities.

Indefinite Closure

In June 2019, the fifth-largest wildfire in Arizona history devastated the Superstition Wilderness and burned 123,832 acres of pristine wilderness. The human-caused Woodbury wildfire consumed everything in its path right up to State Route 88. A short while later, in September of 2019, the remains of tropical storm Lorena dumped an unusual 5 inches of rain in a couple of days, causing severe washouts and a large boulder to fall off the mountainside of Fish Creek Hill. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) promptly closed the road “indefinitely” and erected a heavy metal gate under padlock equipped with a No Trespassing sign.

It’s important to note that the fire never burned Fish Creek Hill where the rockfall occurred; therefore, there shouldn’t be any soil stability issues on Fish Creek Hill. Below, you can examine a map that depicts the burn scar of the Woodbury Fire in orange and the closed section of the road and the precise location of the rockfall. The burn scar data is provided directly from the National Interagency Fire Center.

ADOT | Apache Trail doesn’t meet the state’s definition of a State Route

An Arizona Department of Transportation Low-volume State Route study conducted in 2017 suggests the Apache Trail and 21 other historical highways be “turned over to other jurisdictions.” In particular, ADOT recommends handing the Apache Trail to the US Forest Service. ADOT argues that because Apache Trail does not get enough traffic, it doesn’t justify keeping the road in the State Route System. They also say that there is limited sight distance, infrequent passing opportunities, and the bridges, steep grades, and steep drop-offs are not traffic friendly. ADOT is claiming that low-volume roads should not be designated as state highways, and no State Highway should be for the exclusive benefit of private users.

The study revealed that an estimated 154 vehicles per day travel the Apache Trail with an average annual growth rate of 3.2%. The study also analyzed a history of automobile accidents on Apache Trail. Seven total incapacitating incidences occurred, including one fatality and five motorcycles in the past five years. The study also analyzed investment history claiming a total of $500,530.91 for maintenance on the unpaved portion and $671,275.82 for the paved part with an average annual cost of $231,398.06 and $8,023.51 average annual cost per mile.

Among these 22 roads are also the Coronado Trail aka The Devil’s Highway SR191, the Desert to Tall Pines Road SR288, and Pinaleo Swift Trail SR366.

Download the Low-Volume Route Final Report below.

Apache Trail is deteriorating fast.

We can not wait much longer to repair Arizona State Route 88 Apache Trail. Currently, about 18 inches of topsoil are missing from the road surface, exposing the cribbing that holds the road on the mountain. This has created a channel for water to flow down the road like a river. The cribbing has given away in many places, and some road sections are starting to collapse.

Without immediate attention, the historic Apache Trail is in danger of sustaining more significant damage that could cost millions more to repair. Additionally, if this erosion continues, the road could wash completely off Fish Creek Hill.

Repairs pending studies | ACTION NEEDED

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is reluctant to appropriate money to repair this portion of the road. ADOT claims the road will become washed out during the next rain because of the lack of vegetation along the route. Instead of fixing the road, the governor wants studies completed to determine the feasibility of repairing the road. However, ADOT is not talking about restoring the road in its current condition. The plan is to pave the road, widen corners, install dynamic speed signs, and increase the line of view by cutting back rock walls around corners.

The Arizona legislature passed SB 1820 this year, approving $700,000 for studies. ADOT claims that they must wait to completed soil studies before any work can begin. We believe the current condition of the road, as seen above, does not sanction a long-term strategy as a realistic approach to reopening the road. We believe that if soil stabilization is an issue, the state should clear Fish Creek Hill and maintain the road as is until vegetation reestablishes and their desired improvements can be accomplished. We believe the longer we wait, the better chance the Apache Trail will sustain even more damage, and the state of Arizona will eventually abandon it for good.

We want to send a message to Governor Doug Ducey and ADOT.

Don’t cast aside our historical roads!

2134 Messages Sent

Tell the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Arizona Governor to reopen Apache Trail

Request to reopen State Route 88 and keep it in the Arizona State Route System.

Let it be known that we, the taxpayers and visitants of Arizona, are troubled about the current status of State Route 88 Apache Trail and wish to express our strong support for repairing and reopening the road to motorized traffic.

The Apache Trail State Route 88 is an indispensable State Route to the encompassing communities, rendering valley residents access to an excess of recreation opportunities, including scenic driving, hiking, fishing, kayaking, watersports, and a chance to enjoy one of Arizona’s desolate wilderness areas. Aside from the recreation opportunities, there are hundreds of documented historical events along its route. From the bloody Apache Wars to the world-renowned Lost Dutchman Gold, Arizona State Route 88 is a gateway to experience the mysterious history of the Superstition Mountains.

The Apache Trail is part of U.S. History, and We, The People of Arizona, have a vested interest in State Route 88. It allowed the construction of the first water project under the Bureau of Reclamation, which enabled the settlement of Phoenix. We have paid for maintenance on the road since its construction in 1904. Today, over 115 years later, Arizona State Route 88 is designated as an Arizona Historic Scenic Highway.

Whereas the 2017 Low-Volume State Route Study by the Arizona Department of Transportation suggests the state does not consider Arizona State Route 88 part of the State Route system and recommends forfeiture of the road to “other entities,” including agencies of the federal government. Moreover, the 2017 Low-Volume State Route Study suggests lowering maintenance requirements, paving the road, installing dynamic speed signs, and other improvements that are not realistic after the 2019 Woodbury wildfire, and;

Whereas on August 30, 1954, the 83rd U.S. Congress approved Public Law 83.708 asserting, “the United States of America hereby quitclaims to the State of Arizona all its right, title, and interest in and to all that portion of the land lying within the right-of-way of the State highway designated on the plat of Victory Tract as the Apache Trail, said plat being recorded in the office of the county recorder of Maricopa County in book 31 of maps, page 6 thereof,” and;

Whereas the rockfall on Arizona State Route 88, a large metal gate, and No Trespassing signs have hindered valley residents from reasonably accessing the surrounding public lands for almost three years and have isolated a substantial amount of recreation opportunities. As a result, The People can no longer experience the most beautiful part of Arizona State Route 88, and;

Whereas Maricopa County Sheriff Deputies cannot promptly access Apache Lake Marina and the easternmost corner of their jurisdiction, coincidentally increasing response times for search and rescue efforts, and;

Whereas local businesses have suffered financially from the closure of State Route 88 and the economic impact can be felt by surrounding cities and towns, and;

Whereas the Arizona Department of Transportation has made no effort to repair Fish Creek Hill and has stalled for almost three years, although $700,000 was approved by the legislature to start vegetation studies.

Therefore, I, %first_name% %last_name%, respectfully request the governor of Arizona, the Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, and the Arizona State Transportation Board to consider the following:

  1. Utilize funding appropriated by SB1820 to start the necessary studies to reopen the closed 7-mile section of State Route 88.

  2. Clear the rockfall on Arizona State Route 88, designate the Fish Creek Hill portion as a “low maintenance” dirt road, and restore through motorized travel.

  3. Maintain the 7-mile dirt portion of State Route 88 at Fish Creek Hill until vegetation can regrow and ADOT can complete the studies funded by SB1820.

  4. Refrain from forfeiting to “other jurisdictions” the RS 2477 Rights Of Way to Arizona State Route 88 as mentioned in the 2017 Low Volume State Route Study.

  5. Assert the state Revised Statute 2477 right of way granted by historical law and governed by ARS 37-931 still valid under sections 701(a), 701(h), and 509(a) of the Federal Land Policy Management Act.

  6. Consider lowering the maintenance standards, acquiring grants and county road bonds, and partnering with cities and towns for future maintenance of Arizona State Route 88.

  7. The Arizona Department of Transportation keeps the public updated, including on social media, on progress on State Route 88, including all documents, determinations, and studies.

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This message was sent from an individual via a Call To Action on the Arizona Backcountry Explorers website. You may visit the page Here

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