The Watermelon Crew Keeps Phoenix Trails Safe and Clean

Mare CzinarAugust 13, 2021
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After battling 80-mile-per-hour winds on Humphreys Peak, evading a pack of charging javelinas in the Mazatzal Wilderness and hiking the Grand Canyon in a blizzard, John Heckenlaible decided it was time to give something back to the Arizona trails he loves. Joining the City of Phoenix parks stewardship program felt like a good way to do so.

“I was climbing Piestewa Peak one day and saw two guys wearing bright yellow Phoenix Park Steward shirts,” says the Glendale Community College marketing staffer. “They told me how to join, and within a month I had completed orientation and was out working on the trails.”

Taking on the stewardship of a Phoenix mountain preserve or park is considered a privilege and requires a lot of hard work and commitment. “All park stewards need to go through an orientation class. Once that is complete, they have access to the volunteer dashboard where they can sign up for further training like heat awareness, bike patrol training or to join a crew. I’ve learned a tremendous amount… on proper ways to reinforce edges, rebuild wash-outs, fix downslope edges, create water channels and more.”

Now part of a bonded team dubbed the Watermelon Crew, Heckenlaible works year-round on the trails around Camelback Mountain.

“The main incentive is a job well done and the long-term positive impact we are having on the trails. For example, on the Cholla Trail we just completed work on a set of stairs constructed from boulders, some weighing in excess of 500 pounds. We know that people will be hiking on those stairs for decades,” he says. “Another incentive is the privilege and pride of wearing a Phoenix Park Steward shirt, and even more so is the watermelon badge on my hat that shows that I am a member of a great group of people who are dedicated to improving the trails and protecting our desert. After every shift our crew is treated to ice-cold watermelon, and nothing tastes better after hours busting rocks and moving boulders.”

If You Go
City of Phoenix parks Stewardship Program
GETTING THERE: phxparksfoundation.org

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