PHOTO: (l-r) Coach Eric Heins, junior Sarah Raber, and Graduate Assistant Coach Leah Rosenfeld work on the Flagstaff Loop Trail southeast of Flagstaff.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Cross country runners residing in Flagstaff make good use of the abundance of trails in and around northern Arizona, but it's not every day that a group of them has a chance to build one.
The Northern Arizona men's and women's cross country teams, along with a handful of other volunteers, helped the U.S. Forest Service do just that, building nearly a half-mile of biking and running trail southeast of Flagstaff Saturday morning.
"These kids had real good work ethic, and there was high interest from a lot of folks, which was really cool," said Sean Murphy, Trails and Wilderness Coordinator for the Flagstaff district of the Coconino National Forest. "We usually don't have this many people for a [Flagstaff] Loop Trail event, so we enjoyed the extra manpower."
The Loop Trail, which at 42 miles long circumnavigates the city, was the brainchild of Flagstaff Biking Organization founder Geoff Cross in 2003. The Forest Service gained permission to break ground in 2008, and in its present state 37 miles have been completed.
NAU Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Eric Heins sought out an opportunity like this for his athletes in part because of the call for each Lumberjack student-athlete to work 10 hours of community service each year, but mostly because of the immense amount of time the Lumberjacks spend training in the area.
"We're always using the trails, so for us to go out and build a portion of one is a great way to give back to the community," said Heins, whose Lumberjack men will vie for their sixth-consecutive Big Sky Conference title later this fall.
Despite having to get up early on a Saturday, the effort was worth the sacrifice of sleep, and the athletes felt a sense of accomplishment on a job well done.
"It was pretty rewarding to see the trail at the end of the day," said Matt McElroy, a junior transfer from Oklahoma State. "Running everyday on trails is amazing, but to be able to build a trail and then run on it is even better."
The Lumberjacks begin their season at home Sept. 1 with the annual George Kyte Classic at Buffalo Park.