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Valley hiking trails will shut down early during times of excessive heat, new Parks and Recreation Board policy says

The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board approved a proposal to shut down hiking trails for two more hours than usual on days of extreme heat. 

The Board discussed an updated policy for duration of trail closure when there is excessive heat at Echo Canyon and Cholla Trails at Camelback Mountain and all trails at Piestewa Peak.

July was one of the hottest months on record, according to The Arizona Republic.

The Phoenix Fire Department presented to The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board in an effort to prevent hiking mountain rescues in future periods of hot temperatures.

“We have seen our summer heat become deadly,” Assistant Chief Mark Gonzales said. 

“Although we have seen a decline in the total number of mountain rescues, we are seeing an increase in transporting firefighters to the hospital,” Gonzales said. 

Gonzales gave the presentation in the Phoenix City Council Chambers accompanied by Phoenix Fire Department members in an effort to move up trail closure start times from 11 a.m. to 9 a.m. on days where the National Weather Service declares an extreme heat warning. The aim of this proposal is to prevent as many heat-related rescues as possible on Valley trails.

“The idea is to close the hardest trails on the hottest parts of the day,” said Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department Public Information Officer Adam Waltz. 

In a survey conducted by Parks and Recreation staff and shared through the meeting agenda, 535 users shared their input on the suggested time change. The results showed that more than half of the respondents voted in favor of the new trail closure times. 

Despite the support shown for the change in the current hiking and heat safety policy from the Parks and Recreation Board and the Phoenix Fire Department, many members of the public voiced their disagreement with the changes to the policy to the board. 

“It’s hot here. It just is,” Phoenix hiker Jes Dobbs said. “We are never going to be able to close things down enough to keep people safe from the heat.” 

Dobbs believes that the policy change will not solve the issue of hiker endangerment due to extreme temperatures

“It takes self regulation, it takes personal responsibility, and it takes a community to come together,” Dobbs said. “Cancellation is not the answer.” 

After the extreme heat in summer of 2023 in Arizona, Phoenix Fire Captain Rob McDade believes that the closures come at a time where the regulations have the opportunity to save the lives of both hiking civilians and firefighters conducting rescues.

“We are putting [firefighters] at risk every time we send them all the way up to the mountain,” said McDade. ”We are hoping that this is a preventative measure.”

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