Along the Gila: Pioneer Days and the Arizona Trail

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Sam Hosler

I helped with Pioneer Days as much as my body would allow this past weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now that the four-day event is over for another year, there are a lot of volunteers who deserve not only congratulations but a long rest.

  It was four years ago that The Church of the Good Shepherd decided to enter a float in the parade, and Gary Hill and I were the chief volunteers on the project. The theme was the Copper Basin’s history and its future, so Gary and I decided to commemorate the Copper Basin Railroad, the history of Methodist Christianity in this area, and the future of the developing Arizona Trail.

  We painted two identical scenes, back to back for display in the parade, of an early steam engine pulling ore cars.  In the background was Teapot Mountain and a carefully researched image of the first Methodist Church building, from a photo taken in 1916. We also painted two large Masonite panels with the Arizona Trail symbol, complete with a star indicating Kearny’s position close to the trail. It took us two weeks to put it all together, and we were pretty tuckered at the end.

  The Arizona Trail was just beginning to be used then. Once in a while a hiker or two would make it into Kearny for a bed, a shower, and a chance to stock up before continuing on the journey. The trail stretches from Mexico to Utah, a real slice of Arizona wilderness, Some people hike all the way through, and others do a stretch at a time, working their way toward completion. Other people day hike portions of the trail. All of them make use of the Gateway Communities, populated areas which welcome the hikers and serve as sources of rest and supply.

  In the last couple of years, Kearny has earned the title “The friendliest town on the Arizona Trail.” Maybe it started with Gary and Lorraine Birkett, who received phone calls from hikers coming in to the Kelvin trail head and wishing for a pizza. Well, Old Time Pizza delivers to the trail head! Then people started giving hikers lifts to town, saving them a long walk. It wasn’t too long after that Kearny folks signed up to be Trail Angels, who are publicized on the web and Facebook as willing to meet hikers, bring them in to town, and later take them back to the trail. Gerry Kaufhold placed guest books for hikers to sign all around town. Norm’s IGA set up a special section with items desired by hikers. The General Kearny Inn also receives calls and dispatches volunteer Trail Angels. The GKI also receives packages mailed to the hikers.

  A recent survey shows that towns along hiking trails benefit economically, not only from the hikers themselves but also from friends and relatives who drive from town to town, providing resupply for these committed athletes. Our experience here shows that this survey is true, and that the economic benefit is even largeer because the town itself is small.

  The number of hikers is growing. NOBO or SOBO (North bound or South bound) these folks are good for us. Best of all, they are really fascinating people with great stories to tell. And one of the stories they tell is of the friendliness of Kearny. That’s a reputation we want to keep.

Sam Hosler (84 Posts)


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