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Navajo Nation considers rails-to-trails project

Hikers and bikers would enjoy views like this if a Navajo Nation concept converts a closed rail line into a recreation trail in northern Arizona. (Courtesy of NavajoYes)
Recreation trail would replace rail line between closed coal mine and power plant

The Navajo Nation is considering converting a rail line from the closed Kayenta Coal Mine into a public recreation trail.

The Navajo Rail-Trail project proposal envisions an 80-mile route connecting the communities of LeChee, Coppermine, Kaibeto, Tonalea, Cow Springs and Shonto.

The rail line formerly delivered coal from the coal mine to the Navajo Generating Plant in Page, Arizona. Both facilities shut down in 2019 and 2020.

Navajo chapters on the route are reviewing the rails-to-trails concept and discussing whether to support the idea.

The concept is in the early planning stages, and would be a multiyear project, said Tom Riggenbach, executive director of NavajoYes, an organization that organizes health and recreation programs.

“There have been a lot of meetings with community members and ranchers to gauge the level of interest,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It is a new concept for our area. We are getting feedback from the community about it, listening to concerns and hearing different opinions.”

The goal is to remove the tracks and replace them with a trail surface, which would be open to the the general public.

A proposed rails-to-trails project would create an 80-mile trail between Shonto and Lechee on the Navajo Nation.

The benefit of the trail would be community wellness and help to grow the recreation economy for Navajo Country, Riggenbach said.

“Outdoor fun would be one component – a place for families to walk and bike together on the trail and enjoy the natural beauty of the area,” he said. “It also creates small business opportunities to serve trail users, like stores, campgrounds, Hogan B&B’s and bike repair shops.”

Navajo Nation races

There are two upcoming bike races on the Navajo Nation.The Asaayi road race will take place in person on Aug. 14. The Chuska Challenge mountain bike race is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 18-19, but whether it will be live, virtual or a hybrid will depend on what Navajo Nation pandemic restrictions will allow.

The 20.6-mile Asaayi course is from Asaayi Junction to Narbona Pass in the Bowl Canyon Recreation Area. The race begins at 9 a.m. Sign-up is available on the Asaayi Bike Race website. The race will adhere to Navajo Nation pandemic regulations.

The scenic route passes among the red rock buttes and towers of the area. The final climb to the top of the pass is one of the iconic view points of Navajo Country.

There will be an aid station about halfway along the route and at the finish line at Narbona Pass. Course marshals will monitor the race throughout, and assistance will be available as needed. Riders are encouraged to carry some light mechanical items and pump.

There is a 5K bike road race for youths age 12 and younger. A 5K run for everyone begins at 8 a.m.

The Chuska Challenge is the Navajo Nation’s premier mountain bike event of the year and takes place the final weekend of September in the Chuska Mountains.

The Chuska Challenge Tour includes 35-mile and 20-mile noncompetitive options. The competitive mountain bike race includes a variety of routes and distances, and includes awards for top riders.

For more information about the races, visit NavajoYes.org.