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Phoenix Parks and Recreation passes heat safety policy on trail closures

A new heat safety policy passed unanimously Aug. 31 to protect residents and first responders


The City of Phoenix has proposed trail closures between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. year-round after a heat emergency was declared by the National Weather Service.

After multiple heat related incidents occurred on local trails, the City of Phoenix proposed implementing a new heat safety program which would extend trail closures between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. year-round, when a heat emergency is declared by the National Weather Service. 

Prior to the vote, over 500 Phoenix residents were asked about their thoughts on proposed changes to trail closure policies. When asked if they were in favor of this proposal, over 63% of Phoenix residents supported a year-round program. 

According to the meeting agenda, "the Parks and Recreation Board has proper authority to close or restrict trail access" at any time. Due to the recent increase in the need for first responders in hiking and mountain rescues, this policy calls for hiking trail closures on excessive heat warning days. 

Extreme heat temperatures are defined as temperatures exceeding 90 degrees for at least two days but National Weather Service (NWS) is the organization responsible for identifying excessive heat warning days.

At this time, the Echo Canyon and Cholla Trails at Camelback Mountain and all Piestewa Peak trails are the only trails that will be implementing the policy for a number of reasons: these trails are generally busier, more popular with out-of-town visitors and the most difficult to facilitate mountain rescues. 

The department continues to uphold the no-dogs-on-trails-when-the-temperature-reaches-100-degrees policy on all trails. This summer, a dog died on Piestewa Peak as the temperature exceeded 100 degrees. Furthermore, the rocks in which dogs hike on have the potential to reach a surface temperature of 135 degrees. 

ASU currently conducts research on the impact of heat on the human body. Although many might think they know how heat affects the body, the research discovered that heat is a "real force multiplier of the illnesses and chronic conditions that we have."

Bryan Willingham, a Phoenix fire captain, testified to the Parks and Recreation Board on behalf of firefighters in favor of the new restrictions. 

"When firefighters are searching for someone for hours on end and they are not able to find them or they've passed away, that sets in a whole new sequence of problems," Willingham said during the Aug. 31 board meeting. "I think people need to understand the absolute trauma that our folks experience on a regular basis. We don't want to restrict your ability to hike. We don't." 

Adam Waltz, a spokesperson for Phoenix's Parks and Recreation Department, said trail closures are intended to keep not just residents, but also first responders safe. 

"The reasoning behind the program is to not only protect hikers from the hardest trails on the hottest parts of the day in the hottest parts of the year," Waltz said. "It also protects our first responders, our fire teams and park rangers who are first on the scene in case of an emergency."

Some Phoenix residents said this new policy is an infringement on their freedom. When testifying in front of the board, regular hiker Jessica Dobbs said she believed the poll about the proposed changes to trail closure policy were inaccurate due to its small sample size. 

"I really respect what our rescuers do. I really appreciate it, but there is a distinct freedom that Arizonans and Americans appreciate," Dobbs said. "You can never have enough laws to stop stupid."

Edited by Alysa Horton, Alexis Waiss and Grace Copperthite.

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