In 1905, a stagecoach trail emerged, connecting Mesa to the Roosevelt Dam. This historic route, known as the Tonto Wagon Road, followed an ancient footpath believed to have been traversed by Anasazi tribes. It served as a vital trade route with the Hohokam. Built at a cost of $551,000, the road owed much of its construction to Apache laborers who maintained their traditional way of life while contributing to this remarkable endeavor.
Originally designed as a supply route, the Apache Trail quickly became recognized for its tourism potential. The Southern Pacific Railroad Company was the first to dub it the “Apache Trail” and offered sidecar tours along its winding path. Over the past century, this picturesque area has retained its allure, with its lakes and waterways serving as a popular recreational destination.
However, in 2019, disaster struck. The Woodbury Fire scorched over 124,000 acres of the Tonto National Forest. Just three months later, heavy rainfall led to extensive flooding in the burned areas, depositing debris onto the road and causing severe damage. The worst-hit stretch of road lay between Fish Creek Hill Overlook/Rest Area and Reavis Trailhead Road, bringing passage along this historic road to a halt.
Since then, progress has been made, but the journey to restoration is far from over. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has restored a 1.7-mile segment of the trail, opening it to equestrians, hikers, bicyclists, and UTVs. Popular destinations like Tortilla Flats can be reached via alternate routes.
Significant repairs have also been initiated. An $18 million project was launched, including chip seal paving and improvements along an eleven-mile gravel stretch of roadway. Better drainage features and enhanced visibility have been added, which could help prevent future road damage. However, the fate of the closed stretch of road remains uncertain.
ADOT recently hosted a community meeting to discuss the future of this historic roadway. Various proposed solutions were presented, ranging from minor fixes to extensive renovations, highlighting the ongoing challenges of maintaining the Apache Trail. The preferred hybrid alternative includes widening the road, paving with chip seal and asphalt, repairing bridges, adding guardrails, and enhancing drainage.
While none of the proposed repairs will be quick or cheap, the preferred hybrid option carries a price tag of $33.3 million, with construction likely to begin in two years and completion anticipated another year later. Understandably, the high costs and lengthy timeline have left many concerned residents seeking faster, more cost-effective solutions.
The full reopening of the Apache Trail, from milepost 222 to 229, remains a complex challenge. We invite you to share your thoughts and insights on the proposed plans. Visit azdot.gov/projects/southeast-district-projects/state-route-88-apache-trail/state-route-88-apache-trail-study-milepost-222-229 or use the contact information below:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: (480) 967-1343
- Mail: SR 88 Study, c/o Marshall Hayes, Logan Simpson, 51 West Third St., Suite 450, Tempe, AZ 85281