The southern end of the 800-mile Arizona Trail is a wonder of open space running across the international line from the Coronado National Memorial to a vast, desert area of Mexico far from any paved roads.
It could also soon be the site of two miles of Trump's border wall, along with a calamity of associated roads, lights, and activity, a new bulletin by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency shows.
The public has one week to submit comments on the plan, following an extension of a previous deadline in April.
Advocates of the Arizona Trail hope to convince the feds to make a few changes that might preserve the natural beauty of the area.
"This is not about politics," Matthew Nelson, executive director of the Arizona Trail Association, told Phoenix New Times. "This is about losing a piece of a nationally significant trail."
The Arizona Trail, dedicated in 2009 as a National Scenic Trail, crosses some of the most beautiful parts of the state as it takes hikers from Mexico to Utah, or vice-versa. The association's mission is to protect the trail.
The proposed new barrier near the Arizona Trail is part of CBP's larger plan to construct 74 miles of new border wall across three counties in Arizona. Other construction has been ongoing in Organ Pipe National Monument with the help of the U.S. Army's Corps of Engineers. While antagonizing Democrats, Mexicans, Native Americans, migrant advocates, and environmentalists, Trump hopes to have 450 miles of new wall finished by the end of the year.
The latest CBP report on its Arizona plans show that the agency would construct 30-foot-high steel bollard fencing as a new barrier in some areas, and replacement for existing fencing in others. One 2-mile section of new wall would end at the eastern border of the Tohono O'odham Nation, whose people have firmly opposed a border wall running through what was once the middle of their former territory.
Another 2-mile section would be located just south of the Coronado National Memorial. It would obliterate the view south from the Arizona Trail's southern terminus and diminish the experience of hikers starting or finishing at the site.
Nelson spent part of Monday talking to Senator Kyrsten Sinema's staff about what could be done. He sent a long response to CBP today, which followed the association's public call for help on its website Thursday.
Not only would the new wall mark the land with a "massive scar," Nelson said, but also a road wide enough for two semi-trucks would be created just north of the new wall, along with an embedded ground detection system, lighting, and cameras.
"That would leave a permanent and irreparable scar in the national scenic trail," he said.
On behalf of the group's 1,800 members, "we urge you to minimize impacts to the trail in every way possible while fulfilling your obligations to manage, secure and control our nation’s border in the interest of homeland security," Nelson wrote to CBP in his letter.
The association's alternative proposals for CBP are simple: 1. Don't put a wall on that 2-mile stretch, but use less intrusive detection means. 2. Build just the wall and restore the landscape around it — so, no road, lights, or other visible infrastructure besides the wall. Or 3. Put $40 million in the Arizona State Trail Fund, to be administered by Arizona State Parks for use on Arizona Trail projects.
Nelson encourages the public to comment on the CBP plan, and so does CBP. The agency wants to know, in terms of its entire 74-mile wall project, whether anyone knows of threatened or endangered plants or animals in the construction zones, what recreational activities take place near those areas, and what historical or cultural sites may be there.
Comments can be emailed to CBP until May 15 at TucsonComments@cbp.dhs.gov. The government asks that respondents include “Cochise, Pima, and Santa Cruz Counties Border Barrier Projects March 2020” in the subject of their emails.
Nelson pointed out that the Trump wall project is exempted from normal oversight, like National Environmental Policy Act review, so CBP won't feel much pressure to listen to the public comments. But officials might make a few changes that have a big impact, he said.
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