PRESCOTT - The Prescott Circle Trail has been the dream of the Yavapai Trails Association for all of its 17 years, and it appears like the dream is closer to reality these days.
Prescott National Forest officials are proposing a plan that would complete the portion of the trail that is located on Forest Service land. Most of the trail that would encircle the city is located on the national forest.
Officials want to receive public comments on the new proposal by Friday, Jan. 11.
The first segment of the Circle Trail was complete in 1996. The Forest Service's 1998 Prescott Basin II Project included new trails and converted existing roads.
If the Forest Service completes the trail on its lands, that would leave two segments to build on the northern and eastern portions of the trail: One on state trust lands and the Storm Ranch on the east side of Prescott south of Watson Lake, and one through state and private land just north of town near Pioneer Park.
"The circle is getting closer," said Rob Hehlen, trails volunteer coordinator for the forest. "It's kind of neat."
Hehlen is hoping to get grants to buy easements for the remaining state trust land segments.
Hehlen first heard about the proposal for the approximately 50-mile-long trail around Prescott about three years ago, and started volunteering to help. He liked the idea so much that he eventually landed a part-time job with the Forest Service so he could work on it more. He still volunteers his time to help design the trail on private and state lands.
He has hiked every inch of the existing and proposed trail, and says his favorite section is the portion under construction right now near upper and lower Goldwater lakes.
Prescott National Forest Dispersed Recreation Officer Bill Cook also has helped design part of the Circle Trail. His favorite sections include part of trails No. 332 and No. 393.
Much of the Circle Trail on the national forest already existed as trails with other names, or as motorized roads.
By the late 1990s, forest officials didn't like to use the words "Circle Trail" for the trail system because motorized and non-motorized trail advocates were arguing about how to manage use of the Prescott Basin portion of the forest.
The two sides later made progress, but that didn't produce much government activity on the Circle Trail proposal.
However, now the Forest Service is starting to move ahead on its remaining portion.
The Forest Service announced in November that it was implementing a remaining part of the Prescott Basin II Project decision from 1999 by converting three roads to non-motorized trails.
Forest Road 373A has become an extension of Trail 326 that leads to the Thumb Butte parking lot. Forest roads 51 and 51A have become the Potts Creek Trail No. 327, part of which is the Circle Trail (between Trail No. 322 and Trail #393).
Hehlen and his volunteers currently are constructing the Trail 396 segment that will pass by upper and lower Goldwater lakes south of Prescott.
Now the Forest Service is seeking public comment on a series of actions to complete its portion of the Circle Trail.
Cook said the new proposal incorporates much of what trail users requested.
The proposal includes:
Build four new trail segments totaling 5.7 miles.
Convert Forest Road 9403S and portions of forest roads 9401L and 9707V to non-motorized trails.
Convert multi-use Trail 9415 to a non-motorized trail.
Add four new dispersed campsites along the trail so people can do it in one trip. They would include fire rings and hitching posts.
Build a new trailhead along Forest Road 51.
Close sections of forest roads 373A and 51.
Obliterate a section of Forest Road 9401L.
Install a gate on Jack Pine Road at Highway 89 so Cathedral Pines subdivision residents still have an emergency egress if the road closes to motorized vehicles as the preliminary proposal envisions.
After reviewing the public comments, the Forest Service will decide whether to proceed with its proposal or change it.
The comments also will help the agency decide how much it needs to analyze the proposal's potential environmental impacts.