Symposium to highlight Arizona’s unique trails to international audience

[Source: Brandon Quester, Cronkite News, 11/14/2011] Arizona will host the first-ever international trails symposium in 2013, highlighting the state’s unique trail systems and promoting outdoor tourism. At least 700 people are expected to attend the conference organized by American Trails, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to trail interests ranging from hiking and mountain biking to snowmobiling and off-road driving.

“Arizona and the Southwest is one of the very special places when viewed from people around the world,” said Robert Searns, board chairman for the trail group. “There are just great opportunities and examples that have been accomplished in Arizona. It’s a great outdoor recreation state.”

With over 37 million people visiting Arizona each year, the conference can bring international attention to the state’s vast trail systems, according to Ellen Bilbrey, spokeswoman for Arizona State Parks. “That’s what Arizona is known for – all these phenomenal experiences on trails,” she said. “The more we get people to learn about the trail systems within the state, the more people will come and the better for the economy.” With Arizona having roughly 800 trails spanning more than 5,000 miles, Bilbrey said this is exactly the type of audience the state is trying to attract.

Searns said he hopes that many of those attending the conference will come from foreign countries. “We’ve had a lot of interest from people around the world and what American trails offer,” he said. Previous conferences, held every other year, have catered to a U.S. audience. One was held in Tucson in 1998. He called the Arizona landscape iconic to the U.S. and said trails here will help create a dialogue among those in the industry looking to expand trail systems in their own states and nations.

Searns said the conference, which will be held at the Yavapai Nation’s Radisson Fort McDowell in Fountain Hills, is a chance for people in the trail industry to not only gain an educational experience about American trails but also network with those on the cutting edge of trail design and architecture in urban environments. But this education also extends to more open areas like sections of the nearly completed Arizona Trail, which spans 800 miles from Mexico to Utah and is expected to be finalized before the year is through.

According to Kiva Couchon, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Office of Tourism, 9 percent of the state’s 2010 domestic visitation came for outdoor recreation. “It’s a huge component to our overall tourism efforts,” Couchon said. “This is a big deal for Arizona. Our agency benefits from all this because it’s just another great way to promote tourism in the state.”

General facts:
• There are 800 trails spanning more than 5,000 miles throughout Arizona.
• In September 2011, National Geographic listed Phoenix as one of the top 15 U.S. cities for hiking.
• Arizona’s trail systems span seven land management agencies and include multiple use experiences ranging from hiking and horseback riding to paddling and snowmobiling.
• Arizona is home to the largest municipal park in the U.S., South Mountain Park/Preserve, with 16,000 acres and 51 miles of trails

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