NavajoYES seeks to create outdoor opportunities, envisions 80-mile trail from NGS
Navajo Rail-Trail could convert former rail line from Kayenta Coal Mine to former Navajo Generating Station
PAGE, Ariz. — Where once the Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railroad shuttled coal to the Navajo Generating Plant, NavajoYES, a local outdoor recreation group focusing on Indigenous youth, sees an opportunity to increase recreational opportunities for the Navajo Nation.
Founded in 1995 Navajo Youth Empowerment Services (NavajoYES) is a nonprofit group which has become a driving force behind major trail infrastructure projects across the Navajo Nation.
One recent victory is the designation of the Chuska Mountain Bike Trail by Navajo Parks and Recreation, Office of the Navajo President and other tribal organizations.
The route is an 80-mile traverse across the Chuska Mountains in eastern Arizona that crosses into New Mexico. The route provides a challenging excursion across the 9,000 foot mountains, with a number of campsites and interpretive signage along the way.
Over the summer, NavajoYES put in hundreds of work hours to improve the Chuska route as well as the Window Rock Arch.
“It’s one of those places ... where there’s not a trail, there might be 10 trails but there’s not a designated formal trail,” said Tom Riggenback, executive director of NavajoYes. “Our mission was to try to channel all the foot traffic onto a couple specific routes and that worked out really well. It’s a beautiful area and now you can have a really peaceful hike on a designated trail.”
Trails to rails
NavajoYES has another major project in the works, “The Navajo Rail-Trail. The group envisions converting the former 80-mile rail line from the closed Peabody Energy Kayenta Coal Mine to the former site of the Navajo Generating Plant in Page into a trail.
The rails-to-trails project, while still in the early stages, has gone through public input from all the local chapters and communities of LeChee, Copper Mine, Kaibeto, Tonalea, Cow Springs, Black Mesa and Shonto, according to Riggenbach.
“If we do have the green light (from the Navajo Nation government), and that seems to be the direction things are heading – if that does happen then we would do some surveying through the next upcoming months and then hopefully be able to actually get some infrastructure put in place by next spring and summer,” Riggenbach said.
Riggenbach envisions the rail- trail route as being similar to the Chuska Mountain Bike Route that is essentially a public access route. This would be achieved by removing the railroad tracks to provide a route to hike, bike or run.
“It gets to be a little tricky just trying to navigate it and be able to provide fun public spaces while still respecting the rights and the privacy of local land users as well,” Riggenbach said.
The trail is among several scenarios for the rail corridor that have been discussed since the last train went to the Navajo Generating Station in August of 2019 — the right of way was passed from the Salt River Project to the Navajo Nation.
Discussions have ranged from converting the trail into a tourist train and using it as a utility right of way, however, Riggenbach is confident that some trail development will be taking place within the next couple of years.