SEDONA, Ariz. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service said a half-mile of trail that was illegally built near the heart of Sedona caused severe erosion and damage to an archaeological site in the scenic tourist area.
The trail was built just south of the main village near the mesa holding the town's airport and is just the latest example of illegal trail-building in the Coconono National Forest by either hikers or mountain bikers trying to create their own routes through the scenic area.
"It seems to be a popular pastime for some, even for individuals who seem to know what they are supposed to do," Connie Birkland, a spokeswoman for the forest's Red Rock Ranger District. "I think individuals want to have their own trail and they see a route that is favorable to them. We have folks who go out at night and do (illegal) trail building.
A concerned resident recently called forest officials after finding tree cutting tools and other equipment hidden along a trail, Birkland said. The half-mile of new trail was poorly constructed and caused major damage after rains.
"Our main concern is the sensitivity, especially of the soil in the Red Rocks area," she said.
Legal trails crisscross the Sedona area and other parts of the forest, yet combatting illegal trail-building is a constant battle for the Forest Service.
"Our experience is they often parallel other trails and we don't even really see the need for them, Birkland said. "They see it as their own private trail, in a location that they've chosen for one reason or another.
Off-road vehicle drivers also have created illegal roads.
Two Sedona-area residents were convicted in separate cases earlier this year for illegally building trails. One man was fined $1,000, placed on probation and banned from the forest for six months. In the second case, a 74-year-old man was fined and banned from the forest for two years.
The convictions were misdemeanors that carry a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. But in major cases where antiquities or archaeological sites are damaged, felony charges can be filed. The government could also seek unlimited restitution for restoration work needed to repair damage.
The Forest Service is asking for the public's help in identifying the latest trail-builder. Anyone with information should call the agency's Red rock district office in Sedona.